Where does post-COVID-19 education fit in when the government has so many fundamental issues to address?
Holy Family College Grade 10 learner, Luthando Khumalo, sees equal access to good education for all South Africans as a basic requirement. She states:
Is the South African Department of Education ready for this kind of change? I think not. Yes, turning towards more technology in schools would be beneficial, at most, but right now, it’s a luxury if parents still have to pay school fees… The mere fact that parents would rather pay three to five times more in school fees than the average public school fees, to ensure their children get a ‘proper education’ is an indicator of the huge educational inequality that we face. Fight for equality before technology.
The root of the problem cannot be ignored
Due to educational inequality exacerbated by COVID-19, thousands of learners have dropped out of school in South Africa. Social unrest in 2021 radically increased the number of dropouts. How do we address the ever-increasing school drop-out rate? Khumalo has thought about the problem in the following way:
The unrest has triggered an uncomfortable situation between certain race groups in our country. The rainbow nation is disappearing because the angle of sunlight has changed. Instead of us changing with the angle and following [the] late Nelson Mandela’s dream, we have remained stagnant and who knows how long it will be until the sun shines on that exact angle? The unrest has turned this country into a restless society. Where is ubuntu? Where is the love?
We need action! Fast
The call to action is not only the responsibility of government or the Department of Education. It also includes complex educational reforms. While that is on the macro-scale and leaders will need time and energy to create, implement and monitor sweeping policies, at the school level we need to deal with the immediate needs of our pupils.
In our schools we need to get back to basics, such as simple practices that foster healing – stress debriefing sessions, journaling, prayer, outreach programmes, nature, arts and music.
We are a haptic species, meaning that we are wired for touch. However, the pandemic has changed this. Our society is fragmented. It is falling apart. We need to equip our learners and offer them activities that will assist with the healing process. When healing takes place, this will enable them to connect, firstly with the inner self, and then with one another.
Holy Family College allows for a stress debriefing session amongst the primary school learners. The Grade 1 learners were first allowed to chat amongst themselves. The conversation included topics such as gun violence, stealing and staying at home (lockdown). Dialogues and drawing sessions took place without any judgement being passed about the activities being depicted. The purpose of the exercise was to allow the learners to ‘unburden’ themselves. Initially, the general mood was one of fear amongst these learners, who did not regard the events being shown as at all funny.
The Grade 1 teacher explains:
I had read up on the wonders of allowing the children to draw a picture of an event, as this allows you to ‘see’ into their events without further prompting. Some children drew pictures of people smiling with large shopping bags while others drew pictures of children crying, blood and guns.
Activities that are supportive and stress releasing:
Learners need ways to express themselves. The value of journaling must be acknowledged and implemented within the school curriculum, officially or unofficially. Death is a daily companion lurking around every corner during the ongoing pandemic. When faced with darkness, writing is free therapy.
You might be wondering how writing in a journal can have a significant impact on your mental health. After all, it’s just putting some words on a page – how much can that really do for you? Tons of online information provides proof that the value of this daily practise should never be underestimated. Journaling evokes mindfulness. It promotes emotional catharsis and assists with the management and regulation of our emotions. It boosts self-identity.
This is one of the most powerful weapons that God has given to us. It’s not the words that you say, or even the manner in which you pray; it is your heart and your spirit that need to be in the right place. The following words of a Grade 9 learner, Lusanda Khumalo, echo the need to turn to God anew: ‘The God of Creation, our Father, has not forsaken us. Be mindful of the fact that God works in mysterious ways and that we should not question His ways, for it is futile.’
Learners need to recognise the everyday heroes around them. This will ease the stress of living during a pandemic. On 30 July 2021, Holy Family College learners and staff honoured those who risk their lives daily to take care of those around them. We recognised, for example, St Martin’s Children’s Home, which provides a safe home for abused, abandoned and neglected children.
Music and art education are an important part of the school curriculum, yet it seems as if more and more schools are excluding the arts to make way for other subjects. Music is a universal language with an undeniable power to connect people from all walks of life, irrespective of cultural and language differences.
The beautiful piece of artwork below is designed by Grade 11 learner, Lwanele Khumalo.
This is what he says:
With the eye being the focal point of the artwork, [this piece of art] symbolises our Lord God seeing what man is doing to earth. The hands moving away from each other symbolise the lack of communication within society, as humans continue to inflict pain and bloodshed. My intention is to show the problem and the solution. By turning from our ways, working together and looking towards God, the earth can be made whole again. If not better.
All of the activities described above have a role to play in releasing stress. Simply expressing ourselves and being completely present and focused on the task of doing so, whatever method we use, is both relaxing and empowering.
When we are intensely present in the Now, we respond from deep awareness and we flow with ease and joy into life. Every minute we spend worrying about the future or regretting the past is a minute lost, because really all we have to live in is the present, the now, and this gives us actionable approaches to start living every minute as it occurs.