South African families are going through tremendously challenging times as most continue to stay at home during the country’s extended lockdown. While it is not yet clear when schools will start to re-open, thousands upon thousands of learners are working hard to stay on top of their educational journeys, while those parents who can do so are still working from home. External pressures combined with fear and anxiety about the future are taking their toll on parents who are, at the same time, tasked with ensuring their children don’t fall behind. These, and other factors, are exacting an undeniable emotional toll in homes during this time, an educational expert says.
“The current situation facing those parents who are trying to do their best on the work front to ensure the sustainability of their companies and their livelihoods, while having to oversee their children’s schoolwork is without a doubt extremely stressful, and it is important to take a step back and gain perspective at this time,” says John Luis, Head of Academics at ADvTECH Schools.
“It is no easy task to keep children productive and learning at home, while also trying to get your own work done under trying circumstances. But we urge those parents who are ready to throw in the towel, and who quite simply have had enough, to aim to regain a sense of equilibrium and a positive environment even if it seems impossible right now,” he says.
Luis says that ADvTECH, in its preparation ahead of lockdown, introduced Pastoral Care Teams at all their schools in recognition of the fact that the current situation would come to pass.
“From the start, we were ready and committed to continuing our teaching and learning through our online and distance offering, and recognised that parents and family members would need to support, guide and monitor the learning taking place at home.
“But addressing the continuation of the curriculum was only one part of the story. We realised very early that this was going to be an unsettling and uncertain time for everyone concerned, and that we also had to support our parents and learners in the challenges and demands that would accompany this time in addition to the learning aspects.
“So we put in place Pastoral Care Teams at each school to help learners, staff and parents maintain a sense of community by maintaining regular contact, and to ensure that we are firstly aware of, and then able to help them address issues arising during this time. Many of these issues, as flagged by our partner schools abroad who went through lockdown for up to nine weeks before South Africa did, are now being realised in homes across the country.”
Luis says despite the fact that public and private schools are all planning and preparing for the return to physical sites, the approach will be phased, which means that many learners outside of the designated first returning grades will still be learning from home for several weeks and even months.
“It is very important that the educational journey continues for these learners so that they do not fall behind their peers. But at the same time, the situation needs to be managed in a way that no harm is done do the relationships within the family, as a result of this pressure to continue.”
So parents should aim to re-establish a productive yet calm environment even in the face of the challenges of this time, he says.
“One way in which this can be achieved, is by creating a schedule which allows for both family connection and deep focus time. We as parents must set the example by demonstrating that while things are different, we can build our resilience muscles.
“In the mornings, before children start their work and parents dive into their to-do lists, make the time to connect – read your children a book, get some fresh air, and just be. When the work starts, be realistic. Don’t try to make your average 9-to-5 happen. Structure the day to allow for work-immersion slots, and during this time don’t feel guilty for not engaging directly with your children. Too much screen time is still not advisable, but if it allows the children to decompress while you can apply intense focus to your own work, it will do more good than harm.”
Parents should also dedicate some time to being able to assist their children – and must ensure that they can focus on their child’s needs and learning during this time – without running over their own pending work repeatedly in their minds.
“Try to banish your own concerns during this time, and give your child your full attention. It may only be half an hour, but make that half an hour count in terms of connection,” he says.
Finally, everyone should have some downtime together during the day, potentially around lunchtime, he says.
“Build up your reserves for the afternoon shift by going offline, taking a tea break, hanging up the washing, and so forth. It is important for parents during this time to look after our own wellbeing and state of mind by actively managing these factors, and not allowing our fears and anxieties to rule our entire days or our interactions with our families. By realising the need for, and then ensuring we maintain positive space and connection despite challenging times, we will be better positioned to continue our lives post-lockdown without having to start rebuilding our personal relationships as well.”