The National State of Disaster announced by our president on Sunday 15 March 2020 came as a surprise to many. Fortunately, at Pridwin Preparatory School in Johannesburg, this was a scenario for which we had been preparing.
As a leader in digital technology, we had at our disposal various digital learning platforms for use in online learning. Fortunately, these were already familiar to our boys, having been used in their classrooms for some time.
However, we grappled with using the technology to deliver the level of education that we have come to expect from Pridwin. Our teachers responded to this challenge with the same passion and commitment that they carry into the classrooms on a daily basis as they reimagined their teaching, virtually overnight, to deliver a world class learning experience. This was not always easy, but after a few times in front of the camera, even our most camera-shy teachers became YouTube sensations!
Online is more than just academics
During lockdown, we maintained our commitment to providing a holistic education. While academics is certainly a crucial component to the boys’ education, they were given PE lessons by our coaches to keep them fit. The sports department also kept the competition going with other schools through interschool challenges. The teachers caught on to this competitive spirit with ‘dance-offs’ – however, whether this was truly sporty is debatable.
Very impressively, our music department was able to run a full programme during this time, with lessons both on Zoom and in person. The Pridwin online site enabled boys to book their lessons according to their schedules, allowing them flexibility at a time when there was much uncertainty. The orchestra collaborations and online Christmas carols were a true testimony to the exceptional ability of the department.
Feeling of community so important
It must be mentioned that COVID-19 placed enormous pressure on our Pridwin families, and by extension, our boys. Their socio-emotional well-being was a priority. Our teachers used their daily form class meetings to maintain the feeling of community. The meetings were often chaotic, with 20 boys excited to see their teachers and friends. But we lived for these moments of connection. Board games were played and family pets were introduced. Our juniors even sent voice notes on Seesaw when they needed to connect with their teachers.
Our online learning was supported at all times by the excellent information technology (IT) department at Pridwin. Our IT support team was always available to assist members of the community with their technology gremlins. In addition, our extensive infrastructure, together with the commitment of the executive, allowed us to provide iPads and data to our Pridwin families to ensure that no boy was left behind.
A year of learning
The year 2020 was, no doubt, a year that we would like to put behind us. It was challenging on many levels, but, at Pridwin we are grateful for the lessons learnt. Our teachers are now better equipped to use technology to enhance the teaching and learning in the classroom. But more than the technology itself, the experience has motivated us to model the skills that we aim to develop in our boys, such as the ability to work as a team, to think critically about what we are trying to achieve, and to find creative solutions to problems. Our school will never be the same.
Junior Prep challenges
Pridwin Preparatory School continued with learning through a number of digital platforms during the lockdown period. This has allowed learners and teachers to interact from their homes and continue their learning journey.
Head of the Junior Prep, Joanne Glendinning, discussed the challenges associated with the school closures, saying, ‘The complexity of this phase of development is that so much of learning is linked to socialising and collaborating and is dependent on the level at which the boys can access technology independently and interpret this information.’
Glendinning explained that with this in mind, Pridwin Junior Prep teachers tried to develop activities that would continue the classroom routines that the boys were already used to. The boys begin the day with a physical activity to keep them fit and active and get the brain ready for the upcoming learning session.
Lessons focus on numeracy, literacy and the application of these skills. Learners were given a pre-pack of learning material, including whiteboards for practise, workbooks and a set of reading books and library books to last the three weeks of the initial lockdown.
Instructions and tutorials have continued to be conducted online via Google Classroom and Seesaw. Boys and parents were therefore able to receive instructions, watch tutorial videos and upload evidence of written and oral work.
During the hard lockdown pupils were ‘expected to submit clips of themselves reading three times a week for comment and assessment from their teacher’, said Glendinning. ‘I have been monitoring the uploaded videos and commend the teachers on their ingenuity in engaging and settling the boys. Mostly, I commend them on their commitment to the boys that they teach.’
Senior Prep goes tech
Senior Prep deputy head, Ross Grimley, said
We remain committed to delivering a world-class education
All Grade 5 to 7 boys have iPads, and use Google Classroom to interact with teachers in real time, providing immediate feedback and responding to queries as soon as they arise. Boys are able to access work, submit their responses and receive feedback digitally. Google Classroom also links seamlessly with various educational technologies, such as Google Forms, teacher YouTube channels and Zoom meetings.
‘Pridwin values the relationship between teachers and boys and, to this end, learning is personalised as much as possible,’ Grimley said.
Physical education lessons also take place through Google Classroom, and the music department offers lessons through Zoom’s video conferencing ability.
‘Even with all the digitalisation, we are mindful of the effect of screen time. As such, we have asked boys to complete work in their books and upload pictures of their work to mitigate the effects of screens,’ added Grimley.