As the Covid-19 pandemic caused school closures around the world, there was intense pressure on educational institutions, for all ages, to change their teaching model to home-schooling and online classes to safeguard their students, teachers and staff.
The BBC has reported that home-schooling in the UK has been ‘hell’ for many parents who were working from home with increased work pressures plus a second job as ‘teacher’ for their children. Below is an account by the headteacher of a unique primary school of 140 students (ages 5-13) in Durban, South Africa and how they have risen to the situation. They demonstrate, with outstanding leadership and care for their community, how sound principles make them a beacon. They are an example of dedication and resilience, regardless of their challenging socio-economic environment, and we are proud to continue to support them.
Sherry Moran, Chairwoman, Tribeca Knowledge Ltd.
"To say 2020 has been a tough year is an understatement, but what a fantastic learning experience it has been for us at St James Durban" - Lisa Welthagen, Headmistress
St James started the year well and were pleased that Term 1 ran like clockwork. By the middle of March there was much talk about the rise in Covid-19 cases and the possibility of school closures for a few weeks. In order to prepare for this St James did 2 things; firstly, they created homework packs for every grade and every subject to take the children through to mid Term 2, and they also sent home all work and text books so that the children had access to their work. Secondly, they purchased Cloud-Ed Suite which allowed the entire school to work remotely through Google Classroom. When they closed for the Spring holidays in the third week of March, they expected to be closed for a few weeks at most. And then they went into LOCKDOWN.
This meant that schools would be closed indefinitely. They shifted gears quickly and their teachers spent their school holidays doing daily training for the new remote learning programme. Although they admitted this was challenging, it was also extremely educational. All staff meetings moved onto Google Meet. Term 2 started on 14 April and St James was ready. Initially they worked through WhatsApp where teachers taught through videos and voice notes. Later once they were fully trained, they all moved onto Google Classroom.
Lisa said, ‘I am unbelievably proud of how our parents and children adapted to this new way of learning. They dived right in! All subjects were taught this way apart from Creative Arts. Teachers taught through live meetings, videos, songs, power points and worksheets.’ But how do parents who don’t have the skills to home teach support their children and school? ‘Our teachers were continually available to our students either via whatsapp or on a phone or video call so that all we really required our parents to do was monitor the work’, Lisa explained. ‘Obviously the younger the child the more help that was needed but parents who felt out of their depth could contact teachers directly should they require assistance. All of our parents coped extremely well and the teaching staff were so supportive and readily available.’ The support at St James between teachers and parents was mutual and this built on the community spirit at the heart of St James. ‘We constantly received kind messages from our parents to their teachers, which kept them motivated. Parents always sent thanks and appreciation and it was wonderful when the children met with their classmates and teachers via Google Meet, they were so excited and told their friends and teachers how much they missed each other.’
This form of teaching continued right up until July when children slowly started coming back to school, grade by grade. They continued with both at school teaching in the morning and then online teaching for two hours every afternoon, meaning the teachers’ days were now much longer.
Play times were separated with 1 class at break at a time, with children social distancing. Masks are worn all day, except when they are eating. Sports lessons were stopped and they hope they can restart January 2021. Pick up times were also scattered and NO parents are allowed onto the property. The children are fetched from the gates. In the morning every child has their temperature taken and recorded and they are sprayed with alcohol spray throughout the day. Each class is cleaned and sanitised 4 times throughout the morning to ensure the virus does not remain on surfaces.
Slowly but surely, since the end of September, St James has started to move towards normalcy, but with a difference. All the children are now back at school and although they are social distancing, Lisa reports that there is once again laughter in the corridors. As well as providing a first-class academic education, St James aims to educate the whole child, teaching them sound moral values, good character and strong discipline. ‘At St James we always try to instil in our children to never give up and be of good cheer and these 2 principles form part of our Guiding Principles. The Covid pandemic was the perfect time to keep this in the forefront. We constantly encouraged the St James children to keep on trying and never to give up even if things seemed insurmountable. We also made sure that they stayed cheerful and positive.’
‘I am not convinced that things will go back to normal next year, I believe that this may be the new norm for a while yet. What I can say is that the staff at St James coped fantastically. Not one day of learning was missed this entire year. We completed all subject’s curriculums and have just completed our end of year examinations. A big thank you must also go to our children and parents who adapted and kept committed and cheerful throughout.’