Despite the fear and anxiety that has affected all involved in education during the Covid-19 pandemic, an Education Conversation webinar on the psychosocial issues for education held recently heard stories of hope, solutions and a way forward during the pandemic.
The Education Conversation, an initiative presented by Kagiso Trust, the University of Johannesburg Faculty of Education, and Bridge, was attended by role players and stakeholders across all sectors of education. The webinar, guided by highly respected education academic Professor Kat Yassim, was a robust, constructive and necessary engagement that gave voice to many of the issues facing all in education at this time.
The lived experience of the rural child in attaining education is one that must be given urgent and careful attention, said Themba Mola, chief operating officer of the Kagiso Trust. “The mental
Peter Mahani is a project manager with the Thari Programme that works to support vulnerable women and children in schools in Botshabelo in the Free State and Diepsloot in Gauteng. One of its fundamental pillars is the creation of Safe Parks at schools, a pilot project by the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation launched in 2017.
“Learners need to play and learn at the same time. Playing is not just for fun. It’s another way of socialising and inter-acting, testing their abilities in problem-solving. In the Safe Park we had educational activities, where learners were assisted with their homework as many had no assistance for this at home. During lockdown we had children telling us they miss the Safe Parks,” said Mahani.
The programme also helps co-ordinate the process for identifying and assisting children with problems, connecting teachers with youth workers and parents. It is not just the children who have been affected, but parents who are not trained to help with education at home, and who are struggling in this hard economy.
“During the lockdown, the service was badly affected. The child and youth care workers could not access the children, and vice versa. While Covid-19 affected different groups differently, the child is the most vulnerable. Some could not understand what is going on, could not absorb what was happening around them and could not deal with the challenges.”
Thari went to the communities to assess how it was affected. Phase one was a survey during home visits by youth and child workers. The findings were devastating. Parents said some children had joined gangs, some were abusing substances. They wanted the schools opened as soon as possible. Some learners were reluctant to go back to school because of social distancing fears.
“We reached 52 children who had issues, substance and physical abuse. Most learners were anxious about going back to school, about the virus and about having the time to learn and pass that year. Some thought it would be better to drop out and try again next year. We arranged briefing sessions with the schools and Grade 12 learners, brought in a mental health specialist and motivational speaker to help them prepare and come to grips with the situation,” said Mahani.
The webinar showed that pointing fingers, feeling overwhelmed and giving up was not a solution or an option. Remaining positive, showing leadership and care, and being vigilant of current and future psychosocial issues of all involved in education will give the hope to learners and the future of South Africa post-COVID-19.