THIS marks exactly a year post the first lockdown announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa to try and curb the spread of Covid-19.
We spoke to Stacey Brewer, co-founder and CEO of independent private school network SPARK Schools, who pointed us to 10 lessons learnt over the past year.
1. Technology will never replace great teachers
Brewer said SPARK Schools had always seen technology as an enabler to support committed, engaged teachers. “The pandemic has simply underlined the fact that sound relationships between teachers and pupils are the single biggest contributor to a lasting education,” she said. Technology can deliver content and enable access; teachers develop life skills like adaptability, emotional intelligence as well as the ability to learn and deal with crises and uncertainty.
2. We must build greater resilience
When Covid-19 struck, many people thought it would be a three-week lockdown, and then we’d go back to normal. A year later, we’ve tapped into reserves of resilience we didn’t know we had.
“Not every teacher or scholar is naturally resilient. It’s up to us, as teachers, to find ways to develop this life skill,” she said.
3. It takes a village to educate a child
We’ve re-learnt the importance of engaging with families and school communities, including getting parents and guardians more involved in their children’s education. “Families are equal partners in their child’s education. It’s vital that we walk this road together and establish open lines of communication. If we understand individual families’ needs better, and what community resources are available, we will be better able to ensure that our scholars get the best education they can,” she said.
4. The importance of mental health
The past year has been turbulent and traumatic, but thankfully this has meant that we’re learning to talk about mental health more openly and face its challenges. “Regardless of what education looks like in the future, we must continue to find ways of looking after the mental health of scholars, academic staff and support staff alike,” said Brewer.
5. In a time of crisis, leadership is everything
Leadership experts often talk about the difference between “war time” and “peace time” leaders. In the past year, we’ve seen why we need both.
“While ‘war time’ leaders have come to the fore by being able to adapt quickly to the unknown and be flexible, we will always need ‘peace time’ leaders who take a longer-term view and see the bigger picture. Either way, we’ve seen a greater emphasis on leadership in education than ever before,” she said.
6. It’s time for transparency
The coronavirus has taught education leaders the need to be transparent in times of crisis.
“We must celebrate the good times, and be open and honest during bad times to keep everyone on the same page. A year ago someone said to me: ‘The name of the game is to stay in the game’. The only way to do that is to bring your people on the journey with you.”
7. Blended learning is here to stay
According to Brewer, the growth in our ability to deliver and use remote learning as an additional channel has been one of the biggest positives to come out of the pandemic. “The face-to-face model we return to should include blended learning and opportunities for collaboration among and between classes, schools and entire systems.
“More than ever, we must have a digital strategy to deal with the realities of technology and find better ways of serving our scholars in the future,” she said.
8 But sometimes paper works just fine
While pupils, students and teachers can use digital tools and platforms to continue learning, collaborating and communicating, not every pupil has access to the Internet and devices.
“During lockdown, we developed offline methods of facilitating learning through low-tech and offline solutions, including traditional printed packs and WhatsApp resources and videos – and that need won’t go away anytime soon,” said Brewer.
9. The value of partners who care
The business of education goes far beyond merely being a business.
“SPARK Schools, for example, is privileged to have stakeholders who understand the sector and share their vision of ensuring that underserved communities get access to high-quality education,” she said.
Their commitment and ongoing value-add have been instrumental.
10. We must bridge Mzansi’s digital divide
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen the need to be able to serve pupils and their families with high-quality education at an affordable cost, whether online or offline. As a nation, we must build robust partnerships to serve as many South African children as possible, and give them the opportunities they need to improve their quality of life,” said Brewer.