The Class of 2020 speaks – Learning and friendship during Covid-19

Grade 12 Victory House Private School pupil, Colleen Pailman.
Grade 12 Victory House Private School pupil, Colleen Pailman.
Image: SUPPLIED

For Colleen Pailman, this was meant to be her best year yet after scoring a spot on her school’s leadership committee.

Returning to schools over two months after it closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Pailman, 18, who described herself as an affectionate person, said she hasn’t been able to interact with the friends the way she usually would.

“Not being able to touch anyone or give my friends hugs when I first saw them in two months was very difficult. I was excited to finally go back to school but I was also very nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, but now I feel completely safe,” Pailman said.

The Victory House Private School student went back to school on June 2 and has had some time to get used to wearing a mask for house and her new function as a leader. Scenes of fellow students standing in socially distant circles are still some that Pailman has to get used to.

“Wearing the mask the whole day is changing the way we have done things, we have to speak louder, we struggle to breathe. I realised that I was even struggling to walk up the stairs with the mask on and I sometimes struggle to breathe when I’m sitting in class. We sit or stand in spaced out circles, normally we had access to most of the school but now we are restricted to being on the field. Seeing everyone in spaced out circles is weird because normally we’d be closer together,” she said.

Rebecca Victor, Grade 12 Krugersdorp High School pupil
Rebecca Victor, Grade 12 Krugersdorp High School pupil
Image: SUPPLIED

Krugersdorp High School student Rebecca Victor, 18, said even though she was more productive at home, she was happy to be back at school. The art and design student said the daily screening and temperature checks was “hectic” but the welcome they got from her teachers made it easier.

“Most of my friends actually didn’t go back to school. It’s hectic to be screened and have your temperature checked regularly. But our first day back was so special, with the way our teachers welcomed us back. We waited in a line to get screened and have our temperatures checked, our teachers were standing in a line holding up posters that read “welcome back”, “we missed you”, “we are here for you”,” she said.

Like Victor, Chad Nel from Johannesburg’s King Edward VII School, went back to school last week and also found reassurance from his teachers.

“I was stressed about our school year being cut in half, I was really stressed about how we’d catch up, but our teachers assured us that there is a plan and they’ve been going the extra mile to help us,” Nel said.

Nel said he found working from home difficult because he had to balance his chores and school work. Even though he was excited to go back to his school routine, he was worried about contracting Covid-19 and infecting his grandparents.

18-year-old Chad Nel, a KES Grade 12 pupil.
18-year-old Chad Nel, a KES Grade 12 pupil.
Image: SUPPLIED

“Wearing a mask all day is not the greatest, it’s intense wearing it all day. Our school day has also been extended, so it feels like I’m in a mask 24/7. It’s tough, it gets too much because you can’t breathe as freely and its uncomfortable. Socially it was challenging, we grew up going to school every day and then suddenly we had to wait to see our friends. Then when we eventually saw each other we couldn’t even hug it out the way we usually would, but it was great seeing each other,” he said.

But Covid-19 hasn’t ruined any of their plans. For Pailman, her dreams of studying Theology at the Hillsong College in Sydney, Australia, are still on track. After a few trial online classes she’s ready to enrol for the college’s online programme next month.

Nel has planned to take a gap year while he figures out if he wants to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine or focus on kick boxing.

Nkateko Baloyi, 18, from Soshanguve High School.
Nkateko Baloyi, 18, from Soshanguve High School.
Image: SUPPLIED

For Nkateko Baloyi, 19, her dreams of becoming a journalist have been put on hold. While the Soshanguve High School student is happy to be back at school she is concerned she’ll have to repeat grade 12.

Feeling like she’s at a disadvantage because the only form of online learning she’d had during this time was WhatsApp messages with homework, Baloyi said she was “sad” about what her future would look like.

“I wanted to go back to school, I don’t want to have to repeat matric next year. I want to be a journalist. This will impact my university application, I’m not sure if universities are open. I want to apply at TUT. Right now I’m very worried about my future, I’m stressing because I’m not sure if I’ll be accepted, even though my marks are good, I don’t know now with Covid,” Baloyi said. 


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