The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has triggered upheavals in almost all areas of global society. The rate and scale at which things are changing in South Africa and around the world make it very difficult to know how to plan for the coming weeks and months. Accordingly, fear and uncertainty are readily brought to the surface. At the same time, we are called to foster antifragility, creativity and compassion within ourselves and in our communities. For Axium Education, an organization for which the development of leadership is as fundamental as the facilitation of child-centered learning, this call has been loud and clear. We recognise that in times of crisis like this, there are many hidden opportunities: to demonstrate leadership; to be human in the way we show compassion and understanding; to pioneer new and innovative ways to learn using “creativity under constraint”; and to rally together across teams, organisations and sectors.
As updates about the Coronavirus have come through, we have been preparing and adapting to the changes at Axium. In particular, with the suspension of school across the country, our educational programs have been suspended in the capacity in which they usually run but have become geared towards remote learning, where possible, and the spreading of awareness about the coronavirus. For more details about how students will keep learning, please see our programmatic responses, below, for Nobalisa*, Masakhane*, Senior Schools* and our Public Schools Partnerships*.
The only constant during this time, besides continual change and adaptation, has been our commitment to prioritise the health and well-being of our staff and the children we serve. In the three days before school closures, each of our teams was able to visit schools to connect and communicate with teachers and learners around the anticipated programme changes as well as hand out appropriate informational material with teachers and learners about COVID-19 protection and protocols. We were also able to use those three days to do some student and parent contact-detail gathering and physical resource distribution. Our team also did an amazing job visiting homes and reading clubs to spread correct messaging about the virus, and produced a great isiXhosa song on video to share via Whatsapp.
Following our office closure due to lock-down protocols, we are now gearing towards working from home and all the challenges and opportunities this presents.The Operations team have been focused on preparing and enabling our staff to work remotely where possible. Their goal is to make sure we all stay connected, feel supported and remain as productive as possible over this next period. The next stage of our response revolves around research, collaboration and planning for remote learning. The next round of challenges for our Ops team lies in enabling students and teachers to access digital content by sending data bundles to literally hundreds of students - an incredible feat! Over the next couple weeks we will be piloting remote learning throughout all our programmes in creative, age-appropriate ways while being reflective about what is working. Our goal is then to roll out remote learning to as many students as we can while also planning for an emergency response should we need to shift gears to different ways of responding.
Our commitment is to keeping all employees paid during this initial lock-down period. We are able to do this because of the support we have received from funders who have been especially understanding and supportive during this global crisis - for this we are extremely grateful.
We live alongside and serve a tremendously vulnerable population. Much of the community is carried on the backs of the oomakhulu and ootatomkhulu – a relatively large group of elderly people. A large portion of the community also live with already compromised immune systems. Thankfully we haven't yet been hit by Corona, but we are bracing ourselves for the coming weeks.Access to accurate information about the virus and to medical facilities is scarce however, we are doing our best to play a role with regards to sharing accurate, inclusive and empowering information and we are grateful to all of the health care workers on the frontline of this pandemic.
As a leadership team and as an organization, in responding to the crisis of COVID-19, we are choosing to remain hopeful, but realistic in the face of the challenges and uncertainty surrounding us.
In summary below is an update of how each of our programmes has responded to these changes over the past few weeks and our plan for the coming weeks and months.
The Nobalisa team visited each of the schools in which they work to explain to teachers and students the reasons for school having to be shut down and raising their awareness about the Coronavirus and the ways in which its impact can be reduced. The teachers, in particular, expressed gratitude for the information, some saying that they had been told nothing about the reason for the shutdown. Before it became unsafe to do so, the Nobalisa team visited the homes of the children in their Reading Clubs to explain to families why the reading clubs would be suspended and to raise awareness about the Coronavirus. Families were shown a short video in isiXhosa about the virus and a poster-summary regarding prevention and protection was left with each family. Children were taught a hand-washing song (above) which explains how to protect and prevent against the virus. While we are on lockdown the Nobalisa team will not be engaged in any student focused work as it is not possible given the circumstances. The Programme leaders will be generating content, producing and delivering simple activities for parents and families to do with Foundation Phase learners, which will be delivered via text message or whatsapp. The leadership team will also maintain regular contact with their teams to assess and support the well-being of all team members.
The Masakhane programme initially followed a plan similar to Nobalisa’s, maximising the last few school days to connect with learners and teachers about the Coronavirus and inviting learners to one day of awareness and training around virus protocol. Our in-school maths tablet programme has been suspended while schools are closed. Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to two of our year-long Masakhane volunteers as they were recalled to the UK in light of global challenges. In the coming weeks, the Masakhane team will be trialing text message and phone contact with learners through their parents’ feature phones. Since most learners are not able to receive even whatsapp messages, the teachers will be preparing tasks that can be sent via text message, and will be following up with learners’ academic progress and general well-being via weekly phone calls.
For our Public Schools Partnership team, the past two weeks have focused on campaigning in all schools and the Amajingqi community around accurate and empowering information about the coronavirus crises (the coronavirus song was taught to over 1500 students in these schools!). During the last few days before the lock down, the team has focused on disseminating resources and information about radio and television channels available to keep learning happening as well as collecting parent and learner contact details to keep communication as open as possible. For the weeks to come, the team will be making use of subject whatsapp groups to support teachers and learners as well as supporting school leaders and principals on how to best plan for this lost school time. We note the looming crisis around school feeding schemes, and are watching to see how we can assist within government regulations. A massive “shout out” needs to go to our Matric and Beyond team at PSP who worked literally through the night in order to print and organise resources for our Dumalisile CHS matric students so that they had materials to continue preparing for their final exams later on in the year.
With respect to Axium’s Senior Schools Program, all after-school study groups have been suspended, as well as the intensive extra holiday classes during March-bootcamp. Unfortunately March bootcamp is when our new grade 10s are welcomed into the Programme and this has had to be paused for now. On the bright side, for a significant portion of the Senior Schools students, learning can continue in some capacity. Earlier in the year, each grade 11 and 12 student belonging to Ekukhuleni, a programme run by the Senior Schools Program, was provided with a cellphone and set up with a Siyavula account. Siyavula is a zero-rated website that offers students an extensive selection of mathematics and physical science activities combined with immediate feedback and worked-solutions. Most learning is now taking place on Siyavula. In addition, these students have been provided with tips on how to self-study and given a break-down of the topics to focus on or revise during the suspension of school. Furthermore, these students are receiving assignments on Siyavula aligned to the topics they have been advised to revise or self-study, as well as updates and encouragement via regular SMS and a fortnightly phone call. Mathematics and physical science WhatsApp groups have also been created and students are encouraged to post the problems they are struggling with so that their peers and our teachers can assist them.
All our teams that work with older learners have made regular check ins by phone a priority. We know that lockdown and the uncertainty that the virus has brought to life and students’ academic future has been unsettling, so supporting the socio-emotional side will continue to be important.
*Nobalisa: early-grade literacy and numeracy support for Foundation Phase (grade R-3)
*Masakhane: Strengthening English and Mathematics essentials in transition years (grade 6-9)
*Senior Schools: focused Science, Mathematics and English tuition as well as Careers support for (grade 10 to 12)
*Public Schools Partnership: supporting eight schools in the Amajingqi area with school improvement