Embracing historic matric year

Carla Koen

Driving through Mitchell’s Plain on Monday, the official first day of the return of Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils to school nationally as part of the Department of Basic Education’s phasing in approach to reopening schools, worry on the faces of some parents and guardians were visible as they accompanied their children to school.

Whether to send their children to school or keep them at home amid the Covid-19 pandemic is a question parents have had to grapple with since Minister Angie Motshekga announced the initial reopening date of June 1 that was then postponed to June 8. The strain of this has been felt all round, especially as some schools had to be closed as a result of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

This past week the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) received reports from their education districts that there are 55 schools and 66 employees that have been confirmed as positive for Covid-19, said WCED spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond.

Eighteen schools closed on Monday June 8 in the Western Cape for deep-cleaning. 

Candice Warner, a clinical social worker and therapist in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, is providing free, virtual trauma debriefing sessions to both adults and children who are adversely affected by the pandemic.

Children in particular would find this time difficult, she said. “With routine, children will interpret that there is a sense of predictability, safety and trust. The loss of routine, for some, will create feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.

“Going to school is not only about education, but also about the child’s ability to interact and connect with others, as this contributes significantly to their social functioning and overall development and emotional well-being.

“We must consider the holistic and overall well-being of our children,” she said.

Ms Warner said the WCED and schools should work collectively to ensure that no pupil gets left behind. The school, the education department and parents must work together to ensure that pupils have access to online learning and teaching.

Pupils should also communicate with their school and teachers, if they need help with learning online, she said. The doors to communication and understanding must be open.

She said with much of the school year missed and while most pupils will return to their typical functioning, there are those pupils who are going to suffer mental health challenges post Covid-19. This could serve as a long-term challenge for pupils, that may be difficult to overcome if they don’t have access to proper counselling and therapy.

Carla Koen, a Grade 12 pupil at Portland High School, said she was excited to go back to school on Monday as this is a very important year for her. “Some of my peers and teachers looked anxious and scared, all of us take this virus very seriously. I am concerned about this year, but I have faith that we will all finish it. We need to remain positive,” she said.

When she got home from school, she immediately undressed, put her school clothes in the wash, and washed herself.

She said she would wear something different every day and she would only make contact with her grandmother after she has cleaned herself. During school she sanitises her hands, wears a mask and keeps her physical distance from her schoolmates.

Carla said all pupils should follow the rules and regulations put in place. “This is a difficult time for everyone. During this pandemic it is evident that some of us are more privileged than others.”

Most pupils do not have access to the internet, cellphones, computers and laptops, which makes it challenging for those at home, especially if they are not able to attend school due to comorbidities or living with someone who has comorbidities, said Carla.

Alessio Marcus, 16, chairperson of the Western Cape Representative Council of Learners, deputy speaker of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament and Grade 11 pupil at Beacon Hill High School in Beacon Valley, said there is a gap between the privileged and underprivileged. Alessio is part of the group of pupils who has not returned to school yet, and is doing his schooling from home until the Department of Basic Education announces the dates for the return of the remaining grades.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on the issue of data, which is is expensive, especially for students. The Minister of Communications and Telecommunications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams should make data bundles cheaper especially for students. It should be affordable,” he said.

Alessio has met with leaders in the Western Cape and the WCED to discuss a plan to assist all pupils, both those who are at home learning and those who are at school. He was also part of the group of pupils who inspected his school, and was very happy to see how safe the school was made by teachers and staff.

Encouraging her peers, Carla said: “This is history, we would be the first group doing matric during a pandemic. It will be challenging but we are here for a reason and we can do this. Remain positive no matter what. Don’t let the anxiety take over, let’s take this opportunity to shine even brighter than before.”

For more information on the free trauma debriefing sessions offered by Ms Warner, log on to Centre for Care and Contact website at www.careandcontactcentre.co.za