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  • Writer's pictureHeaven Nen

Covid-19, Lockdown and the Impact on Learning

Updated: Jan 17

The big shutdown:

The beginning of 2020 saw what was once believed to be a manageable virus become a global pandemic that would change the course of our lives forever. Thousands of cases were reported daily, and we can all vividly remember the fear that gripped us- especially as the cases and loss of lives surged at a dramatic pace. In schools, we also witnessed the abrupt end to learning. I recall sitting in my classroom (I was in Grade 12 at the time) and hearing the announcement that schools had to close in order to ensure the spread of the virus was limited. At that very moment was a feeling of instant relief. Of course, not because of the virus but rather because of the upcoming break. Little did I know that exact break I had been longing for would, in retrospect, turn into a tumultuous period. The months that followed, namely the end of March through to the beginning of January 2021, inspired a lot of the changes that we are still adapting to today. That includes extreme health precautions, restricted social gatherings and one of the biggest, the change in education and learning. We can all agree that there have been new ideas and methods that have helped students, teachers and even parents adapt to the abrupt change but on the other hand there has also been a strong recognition of the negative impact on children’s ability to learn effectively. Many teachers are finding it more difficult to control unruly classroom behaviour and school systems are struggling to manage the effects of being away from school for such a long time. We will explore these effects and briefly present ecl’s ideal approach to the various learning demands and challenges that we are witnessing in the post-pandemic era.

The short and long-term effects of lockdown on students:

There were immediate and obvious effects on learners once we had to go on lockdown and they were felt globally. Friends could not physically meet each other anymore and there could be no social events that could bring people together. What did this mean? Learners had to become entirely dependent on social media to fulfill their social needs. In other words, social media became the only way to ensure social survival. For those who had access to spacious and accommodating homes, there was at least an option to engage in physical activities such exercising, playing with pets and even just sitting outside with family to bond. However, this was not a reality for everyone. Unfortunately for many other children, they had to be in chaotic homes that were not suitable for ensuring their safety and survival. This reality must be understood and empathised with tremendously as we consider the impact on the mental and physical health of these children. Either children had inadequate access to proper nutrition and care or many were exposed to violence and abuse. According to Childline South Africa, there was a 36.8% increase in calls for help and rescue during August 2020 compared to August 2019. This surely gives us an indication that violence hit a peak now that children were left vulnerable in their homes. Looking back at it now, my experience of the lockdown was both really helpful and, in another way, harmful. I had the opportunity to rest a bit more and have more time to myself. The “harmful” part however, was my ignorance towards my academic needs. Never had we been away from school for that long and by May I was beginning to feel the impact of not having in-person classes and the lack of easy access to teachers. Thankfully I came from a great school which ensured we could resume learning online and was patient enough to allow us to adapt to this new way of learning. There was also a mass disconnection between us learners and the work we were doing. We did the work but we didn’t really engage with it on the level we would have if we were in school. From this I realised how important physical-social interactions were for us in order to learn. Many students that I know and have come across in conversation resonate with this feeling.

Back to learning:

Some schools both here in South Africa and abroad started welcoming their learners back into classrooms from mid-June 2022- especially for seniors who had to begin preparing for examinations. Others felt more comfortable with continuing their online learning for those who had the facilities to do so. The effects that have followed since then are quite the same for both circumstances. Many learners, like myself, really struggled with the ability to focus for long periods of time in the classroom. It is already known that many learners have shorter attention spans than others but after resuming school on a full-time basis after such a long time, this became apparent for many more learners. We became extremely agitated and could not work to our full capacity. For teachers, their panic and frustration with not having enough time to complete work content for the year was clearly visible to students and overtime their stress began to reflect on us. Learners’ attitudes and behaviours are in most cases a reflection of teachers' attitudes and behaviours. Learning has not been the same since we went back and we can attest to the many challenges that have sufficed from this. Children are not coping with schoolwork, absenteeism has increased causing a gap in learning, there is disorder in the classroom and many teachers are unable to manage this. Parents are also not coping with the effects of lockdown on their child's learning. Everyone in the system has sort of “lost their place” and it is affecting their progress. How should we respond to these challenging realities? Are teachers, parents, learners and all other corresponding parties responding appropriately during in this post-pandemic era?

Connecting to the emerging future in education:

ecl holds strongly to the idea of using our somatic wisdom in other words, using the knowledge we get from our bodies and what they tell us, to engage with, understand and develop ways to ensure that these effects whether positive or negative are dealt with. This is to ultimately ensure that everyone in the system thrives moving forward from the pandemic and lockdown. We must understand that teachers and parents have inherent wisdom that they have acquired naturally and that through both time and experience and it is important for them to tap into this wisdom to actualise its benefits. A systemic approach will allow for teachers and parents to relate to students and that will in turn allow for learners’ needs to be nurtured both in the classroom and at home. Establishing a container to create a safe space in the classroom where everyone’s hopes and expectations are acknowledged is essential to allow for open conversation to find solutions to these issues and demands.

ecl will be presenting at the Global Teachers Institute Axis Summit on July 13, 2022, first in-person and then online. Our focus will be as highlighted above, “Stepping into the Post-Pandemic Era: Connecting To the Emerging Future.” Follow us on social media as we build up to our presentation for the summit and get a glance at what ecl’s approach is to this exciting emerging educational future.

If you would like to attend the summit, please purchase a ticket below.

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