Since the start of COVID-19, when the world as we knew it was turned on its head, teachers and schools have tried hard to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic and create a sense of normalcy for their learners. The majority of schools have taken to the challenge and many teachers have given it their all to adapt to this ‘new normal’ and keep teaching and learning at the centre of their focus. Yet despite this, many of us were left hoping to return to contact teaching in the near future because of the negative impacts that the pandemic has had on learning. These impacts (both positive and negative) can be broken down into the following:
The Unforeseen Effects of Mask Wearing
Keeping our schools COVID-friendly and ensuring that the safety precautions are adhered to is extremely important and must be respected, but one of the unforeseen consequences of COVID-19 is the effect that wearing masks has had on the relationship between teachers and their students. As a result of having to wear masks, teachers have been unable to get a sense of engagement and understanding from their learners’ facial expressions and learners have struggled to connect and learn from their teachers. In a time where human connection is so important and was really missed during the lockdown period one cannot underestimate the power of a shared smile!
Although it has not just had an impact on the relationships between teacher and student, but has also created a practical issue in the classroom. A Foundation Phase teacher expressed how difficult it was to teach her Grade 1 learners phonics and vowels because of not being able to show her learners the way to annunciate the letters and sounds behind her mask. She even tried to use the plastic shield masks, but unfortunately they seem to fog up when speaking.
The Disruption to Learning from Safety Precautions
Another impact of the COVID-19 regulations is the teaching time lost due to having to take temperatures multiple times throughout the teaching day. Teachers take learners' temperatures:
Many teachers have reported that these safety regulations eat into teaching time and distract the learners from learning and focusing on their schoolwork. A result of all of this is that teachers are struggling to complete the curriculum in an already pressurised environment.
A Rise in Absenteeism
The final main concern that teachers have had during the pandemic is the rise in absenteeism. This rise seems to be attributed to a few different factors. The first is that learners or their parents may still be nervous of getting COVID-19 from exposure at school and have therefore decided to keep their children at home. Another reason is that due to safety concerns, schools have split up their classes into different, smaller groups who come to school at different times or days. The reasoning behind this is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to help maintain social distancing. Yet, teachers have expressed concern around learners, especially those in the Foundation Phase, being confused about when to come to school and are therefore missing out on valuable learning time in circumstances where every minute in the classroom needs to be used to the fullest to make up for the lost teaching time over this last year. Teachers have also found that learners are not completing homework or assignments during the time when they are not in the classroom.
A Positive Outcome
Although this may all sound very negative and dreary, teachers and learners have expressed some positive feelings that have come out of the pandemic. One of these positives is the smaller class size, which has allowed teachers to be more attentive to all learners in the classroom and build stronger relationships with their students. Many teachers have even stated that since the start of the pandemic the level of classroom discipline has improved and learner participation during concept development has increased!
Edufundi mentors have also expressed that although this has been a challenging time in many different ways they have been able to connect with their mentors on a deeper level as they supported each other throughout the depths of the pandemic and the reopening of schools.