Teaching amid COVID-19: Spotlight on Upington High School

The COVID-19 pandemic has caught everyone off guard. This while the national lockdown presents new challenges to schools, principals, teachers, learners and parents.

 

We would like to inspire and motivate you with our new series “Spotlight on…” where we will look at how schools face these challenges and what tools they use to achieve success.

– Interview with Principal Riaan Kotze, Upington High School

 

(KLIEK HIER VIR DIE AFRIKAANSE WEERGAWE)

1. What first went through your mind when you heard the announcement of a national lockdown?

I do not think anyone realised what it really is until you are faced with the reality of it. To see that a school is empty and there are no teachers, then you realise this is now a reality.

At Upington High School, we see the national lockdown as an opportunity, because we have been busy with e-learning and tablets since 2015. It is unfortunate that it had to come with a pandemic but now we can show parents, educators, our community, and parts of the country that still do not believe in it that technology in the classroom can work. We accepted this thing and said, “Good, let us see this as an opportunity. How are we going to seize this opportunity?” and we worked from there.

2. How did you prepare for the lockdown?

Planning: As a result of reading what is going on in the rest of the world, we saw this thing coming. So, we quickly sat down and came up with a plan before the teachers left the school. Every subject group and every grade group looked at how they could help their learners. We have a few creative teachers who were enthusiastic about making it work.

Online classes: We are currently offering lessons in critical subjects like Mathematics and Physical Sciences through Zoom on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. We have had unbelievable attendance. One of the teachers said attendance is never under 80%. The teachers use Visualiser to record their lessons. The good thing about that is that they can then later send the lessons to the learners on their miEbooks application. The learners who missed the online lesson then get the lesson automatically on miEbooks when they connect to Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi: There are challenges because not all learners have data at home. The school changed the Wi-Fi settings right before the lockdown so that the Wi-Fi works just outside the school walls. Some learners come to school to use Wi-Fi. They sit in the car outside the school to update their miEbooks application because miEbooks keeps working without Wi-Fi as long as the content has been downloaded.

Orals: The Grade 10 – 12 teachers have sent the orals to the learners. The learners must now work on their orals, write them and send them back. If the teacher approves the oral, the learner will physically record the oral on their tablet and send it to the teacher to evaluate. That way, the learners do not have to work on their orals when school starts again. It saves a lot of time, seeing as the orals are a time-consuming facet in the languages.

New ways of learning: We try to manage the challenges that are there. We will not necessarily get to all of them, but we will make sure that our senior learners are reasonably serviced. After the lockdown, we will have to evaluate what worked and what did not. The feedback that we have received from the parents so far is very positive. In general, I am excited about what is going to come out of this, and I think that perhaps COVID-19 prepared us for a new way of teaching.

 

3. What role would you say ITSI’s technology plays during the lockdown?

ITSI helped us prepare: We have been working with ITSI for five years already. I think with ITSI’s help, we prepared our teachers and learners to use technology reasonably well. A person is never totally ready for such a change, but with the help, support and training that ITSI gave us in the past few years, we can continue with schooling during the pandemic. It helps that the teachers are already trained. Especially the young teachers who use the ITSI platform regularly, they easily found ways to keep the school system running despite the situation. The e-books also work well.

From our side, we want to thank ITSI for making this possible, and for their support.

Teachers can compile their own book on ITSI: If the lockdown continues, it will make the school year shorter, and so we would have to adjust the curriculum. I am in the process of asking the teachers to create their own books from the information from the textbooks and notes. It helps that they can then put everything in their own order and create their own book. The book can be uploaded to the ITSI platform.

4. How do the teachers at your school experience the national lockdown?

I think that it is frustrating for the teachers. There is always a teacher or two that are not so skilled with all the new technologies. In general, our teachers are unbelievably positive. If you look at the statistics (using the ITSI system), it is possible to see that the teachers share a lot of resources with the learners. The teachers really bought into the situation and they are doing their best to support our learners.

5. How are your Grade 12 learners doing? In general, there is concern about the class of 2020.

Our senior learners are a top group and they try to motivate the other learners in the school. I am not worried about our Grade 11 and 12 groups because we are currently focusing on them. It is important for us to contact the parents through WhatsApp. We are also trying to explain to the parents how important it is that the children do not fall behind.

6. Any advice you could give to other schools?

Communicate – Communication, communication, communication. I think the more regularly you can communicate with your parents and your community, the better. Our community wants to know what is going on. They all want to support each other. It is not a child-parent thing, it is a community thing.

Other schools are struggling a little bit and they are frustrated because they are not necessarily getting around to their parents and learners. My advice for other schools is just to keep in contact with the parents and the learners. It will give them peace of mind and it also gives a bit of direction and vision for what is to come.

Use the ITSI system – The ITSI system makes it easier to communicate. Because we have already been busy with e-learning for a while, it helps that the parents know that the tablets need to be updated and that the learners must go online now and then download new information. It makes our communication easier.

STATISTICS UP TO AND INCLUDING 14 APRIL FOR UPINGTON HIGH SCHOOL

*compiled through ITSI’s statistics function

  • 93% of learners are actively busy with teaching and learning.
  • 87% of learners have already updated their tablets by 14 April.
  • The total number of resources that have already been sent to Grade 8 – 12 learners is 2 225.
  • This means that the teachers are working very hard and on average, each teacher has sent 82 resources to the learners. Resources include the following: PowerPoint presentations, notes, videos, complete lessons, old question papers, memorandums, etc.
  • Teachers offer daily online lessons through Zoom.

 

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