OPINION | ‘Purpose-driven education can move mountains’: Lessons from lockdown

Education in 2022 and beyond has shifted. It will never be the same as before. (Getty Images)

Education in 2022 and beyond has shifted. It will never be the same as before. (Getty Images)

Jacqueline and Gershom Aitchison – founders of Edu Inc. share some of the values and educational philosophies they’ve picked up during the past two years of educating during the pandemic. 

It’s been two years since we stared down the spectre of Covid-19 and all the uncertainty it wrought.

For us as principals and educators of an IEB registered private school with small classes in the Johannesburg suburb of Fourways, our foremost concern was its impact on our pupils.

None of us could have predicted the extent of the fallout it would have not only on them but their entire support system – parents, educators, friends, and the broader civil society.

Also read: Academic journey of a lifetime: The school, pupil and parent relationship

The benefit of hindsight

The anxiety levels we see in our children, and indeed our educators across the board, are unprecedented. This means that much of our energy and focus as we re-enter full-time classroom interaction nurturing their emotional and mental wellbeing.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see the value of maintaining deeply entrenched values and educational philosophies. Though tested, these have proven their worth, having held up during the times when Covid-19 was doing its worst.

We share some of these lessons hoping that they have merit in helping all educators face some of the challenges as we navigate re-entry into the new normal of post-Covid education.

No new normal

Education in 2022 and beyond has shifted. It will never be the same as before Covid. Our children have changed, as has the way they engage in the learning process. Our educators have changed too. Technology has empowered them, and the social changes that Covid has brought mean that we must pay closer attention to the individual child than ever before.

Hybrid education

This is here to stay. Many private educational institutions like ours have pupils who have either “semigrated” or formally emigrated but want to close out their schooling in South Africa. As educators, we must find ways to cater to them by offering consistency of education and community and connection, albeit digitally. We have, for example, provided a space in our classrooms for these remote pupils to have face to face classroom interaction and learning. This is so that the remote and digital learning experience is as immersive as the physical on-campus learning experience.

A1 for Agile

Rapid change is endemic to the 21st century. Our focus on small classes (between 10 and 12 pupils) gives us unprecedented flexibility when catering to the specific needs of the individual and the constant adjustments that were required during the pandemic. We were ready for schooling from home and digital teaching as the lockdown was announced, for example.

Bring in the parents

The school is a community, and our pupils’ families play a vital role in extending our educational input. We believe we need to double down in our efforts to ensure everyone within the community unit is playing their part and that everyone has a voice in the learning process.

Building resilience

As a school, we encourage self-actualisation and self-expression. Giving a voice to our children means listening to and hearing them. This builds in them both accountability and the confidence to engage constructively in their community both now and in the future.

Dare them to dream

A key benefit of living in a digital world is the access it gives to some of the best the globe has to offer. Many of our students have presented TED Talks. Our relationship with Eton’s online college in the UK, EtonX, means our pupils can access some globally relevant courses that add to their portfolio of self. This means that our students can compete and contribute globally.

Everyone can benefit

Our hybrid education model has been proven and perfected over the last two years. While private education is generally well resourced, we see huge potential to share our knowledge and resources with less privileged schools. Classes can be joined online. Where there is a shortage of vernacular and mathematics teachers, for example, a single class can be joined by multiple pupils and schools online.

Where there is a will, there’s a way

Purpose-driven education can move mountains. Despite the severe disruptions of the past two years and the pain of the pandemic, what it has shown us is that we are in this together. We trust we will use its lessons grounded in our common humanity to overcome the many education challenges facing our communities and country. It’s possible.

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