The education sector knows all too well about disruptions and uncertainty during a pandemic. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)
The education sector knows all too well about disruptions and uncertainty during a pandemic. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Advice to parents for a tough academic year ahead

By MaryAnne Isaac Time of article published Jan 29, 2021

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The year 2020 will forever be remembered as the great disruptor of plans, with 2021 looking no different. Last year forced us out of our comfort zones and had us adapt quickly to a new normal of wearing masks and social distancing.

The education sector knows all too well about disruptions and uncertainty, and according to Philippa Brinkmann, head of learning support at Rustenburg Girls Junior School in Cape Town, parents should only buy what’s absolutely essential for getting through the first term of 2021. For example, she says, don’t invest in sports clothing and equipment at the moment – schools may not be allowed to offer their usual extramural activities, and kids may grow out of their sports clothing before they even get a chance to use it.

Brinkman, who is also mother of a 12-year-old school-goer, advises parents to buy school uniforms only for the summer season, as she believes the uncertainty surrounding a possible third wave of infections will occur in winter, which may result in a possible schools closure.

She adds that a device such as a laptop or tablet and access to data are also essential.

“In the brave new world of online learning, the need for technology is becoming a reality for a growing number of South Africans.”

Hayley Friend, a teacher at Camps Bay Primary in Cape Town, agrees that a basic level of reliable, user-friendly technology is needed to keep up with distance-learning.

“Fast wi-fi connection at home is ideal, and perhaps a tablet or smartphone of the child’s own,” she says. Access to a printer comes in handy, she adds, as tangible notes are more engaging and therefore more memorable.

However, the access to affordable data is a problem even in affluent areas. “Many of our kids come from areas outside that aren’t as well resourced, so things like access to affordable data remains a challenge for many families.

“A designated study area that’s undisturbed and quiet, along with a solid routine, really improves the home-learning experience,” says Friend.

“Mini whiteboards with markers also help, as kids can write up tasks, make mistakes, wipe them off and start again. And regular breaks are vital. I always recommend to my kids to study for 20-30 minutes max, and then allow for a 10-minute break.

“A mini-trampoline in the yard, a skipping rope or a punching bag can get kids up and moving. And don’t assume that they can’t learn while moving and having fun – they definitely can,” she adds.

The Tomorrow Trust, a Gauteng-based non-profit organisation partially funded by the Datatec Education and Technology Foundation that supports orphaned and vulnerable children throughout their educational journey, supplies smartphones and data to thousands of children aged between 5 and 18 in Alexandra, Soweto, Tembisa, Daveyton and Diepsloot, as well as Nange and Gugulethu in the Western Cape.

The trust has set up WhatsApp groups, moderated by teachers, for their pupils to get extracurricular support, as well as for their senior pupils to participate in online webinars focused on career development, and to nurture socio-emotional skills.

“An area often neglected is the right emotional support children should be getting during these extraordinary times,” says Reabetsoe Buys, who heads up the youth development programme at the Tomorrow Trust.

To this end, Buys advises that parents or caregivers create a structure and a routine during the day for their kids, ensuring that there’s a set time dedicated to learning and fun activities such as experiments, art and hands-on activities.

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