OPINION | One pupil's journey: Navigating matric during the Covid-19 pandemic

Fumigation of a school in preparation for opening under Level 3 lockdown.
Fumigation of a school in preparation for opening under Level 3 lockdown.
Photo: GCIS
  • For pupils, especially matrics, the current school year has certainly had its challenges owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Schools are scheduled to reopen on Monday.
  • Pupil Brad Gottschalk says the history books will definitely remember the 2020 matrics as having one of the hardest years to finish school to date.

Matric pupil Brad Gottschalk attends a private school in Johannesburg.

Here, in his own words, he talks about what this year has been like for him. 

Brad Gottschalk
Matric pupil Brad Gottschalk (Supplied)

2020: One of the hardest years - Brad Gottschalk

I think it goes without saying that matric is not an easy year for anyone, but the history books will definitely remember the 2020 matrics as having one of the hardest years to finish school to date.

Without even realising, my whole school career has been in preparation of this matric year, not only academically, but socially.

Throughout high school, we watched as the Grade 12s received all the benefits of reaching that stage in life - driving into school while blasting music, matric jackets, student leadership, and the pranks pulled on teachers; but we also saw the more serious side to Grade 12 - the tears, the anxiety of waiting to be called in for moderation, and the last minute checking of notes before writing finals.

This special mix of living in a time filled with laughs, as well as a more serious and anxiety provoking stage of life all make up the matric experience that we've all been told so eagerly we should be excited for. But that experience has been taken away from us, the matrics of 2020.

I am a person who religiously keeps up with current affairs, and reading about the coronavirus epidemic in China throughout the beginning of the year never worried me. Maybe it's the more optimistic side of my thinking, but out of the few pandemics that I've lived through, the odds of the virus coming within reach of me was not even a thought that I had.

However, as I sat down to write my first mini-prelim, the virus had just hit South African shores.

Still, I thought nothing of it. By the second mini-prelim, everyone in my grade had come to school fully armed with masks, hand sanitisers, and gloves; all while we wrote English in desks spread 6m apart throughout the school (rather than our normal venue of the hall).

Of course, the third mini-prelim was written online after it was announced in March that schools would close due to the pandemic.

Most of us made light of a situation which we had no control over.
Brad Gottschalk

Most of us made light of a situation which we had no control over - messing around with the digital invigilator or looking at notes not within view of the camera. This was the only way we could cope with the absurdity of the situation.

After the mini-prelims came the April holidays.

Usually, these holidays meant being bored at home, but now these holidays meant being bored at home during a highly regulated lockdown.

I miss the things that I used to hate.
Brad Gottschalk

One day, I'll definitely regale my children about what it was like to celebrate my birthday in the middle of a pandemic.

Next, came online school.

If you know me, then you know that I haven't been high school's biggest fan, but in an ironically cruel turn of events, I miss the things that I used to hate.

Sitting down, staring at a screen for eight hours a day indoors really makes one think about how much you took wearing a uniform and being in a class environment for granted. Although most of us already live our lives digitally, there's something about having real human contact, or a teacher writing on a white board. And now we are back in that environment, or at least most of us are.

I, along with my family, felt it would be best if my twin and I stayed at home; opting to remain digital instead of taking the small risk of being exposed to the virus.

But things feel worse now.

The school is trying to balance two mediums of teaching, with teachers reverting to their in-person teaching style, while the people at home struggle to keep up with a blurry white board and faint voices of classmates.

I don't blame my school, in fact I am eternally grateful for the amount of effort, leadership, and care shown during these unprecedented times. We are all in the same boat after all.

I worry about the future.
Brad Gottschalk

I am trying to make the most of the situation, but our group of matrics will forever be the ones either stuck at home or in an apocalyptic environment out of a movie, rather than having our fun final farewell at the school we grew up in.

I worry about the future. How will I write finals? What will happen with university? Is a gap year still an option?

These questions are stacked on top of the normal stress of matric.

I can't help but to think about the other matrics in the country - those without access to technology or schools who can manage with government-enacted regulation.

It goes without saying that matric is not an easy year for anyone, but doing matric in the middle of a pandemic feels almost impossible.

- Compiled by Vanessa Banton

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