Local matric students share their experience of returning to school in a pandemic

Classroom teaching during Level 3 lockdown at Nhlanhlayethu Secondary School.
Classroom teaching during Level 3 lockdown at Nhlanhlayethu Secondary School.

The matric year is always going to be highly stressful, but add an invisible virus and it becomes a nightmare.

There was a lot of concern when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that schools would reopen amidst the pandemic.

Parents and students alike voiced their fears, but for many matriculants, in particular, it was panic-inducing.

'Covid-19 is closer than I thought'

"I thought that the government was crazy to reopen schools," says Calvin Davids, an 18-year-old matriculant at Malibu High School. Calvin has type one diabetes and is therefore high-risk. He's had panic attacks due to the looming pandemic.

"I am extremely scared," he says. "I've realised that Covid-19 is closer than expected. My neighbour was the first nurse in the Western Cape to pass away from Covid-19. That made me realise it's no joke."

Emma Hutchinson, 17, attends Westerford High School and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during lockdown.

"At the beginning [of lockdown], my view was very much like if I get this virus, it probably won't be very severe, so I wasn't too scared. But after being diagnosed and becoming more compromised and 'at risk,' I have been EXTRA cautious and have felt quite scared about getting the virus."

Schools are looking after their students

All the students interviewed say that their schools have enforced stringent methods such as screening before the school day starts, distancing between desks, wearing masks and constantly sanitising both their hands and their desks.

But looking at numbers, Calvin's school has 324 matriculants, while Emma's has less than 200. Even this difference could possibly put Calvin at higher risk.

Neither of them have chosen to go back to school due to their conditions, but are working from home.


"[My school] offered to do remote learning," says Calvin.

"The teachers would prepare work for us and send it to us over Whatsapp. Recently, my educator asked me to test an app that can help with remote learning and provide feedback about it."

One of Calvin's classmates has created a petition to get the Grade 12 syllabus reduced due to the pandemic.

Emma says: "My teachers, personally, have been amazing! Most of them have organised to include me in the class through zoom or Google meet, so I'm looking forward to being involved in class again."

She will also carry on with the online learning programme she was using before schools reopened.

'I'm scared of infecting my grandfather'

Mandisa Banda, 17, also attends Westerford and has chosen to go back to school. While she is not high risk, this does have consequences for her too.

"I am terrified. My grandfather lives with us, so I have to be extra cautious when going to school. I can't afford to infect him. I also have to distance myself from him and the rest of my family," she says.

"It is extremely overwhelming," says Mandisa about going back to school.

"My grade has been split into two groups which attend school on alternating days in order for us to social distance, so it's a bit strange not being able to see all my mates. But it's great to be back in class. I find that many learners, including myself, need the structure that being at school provides in order to learn," she says.

'My matric year isn't what I thought it would be'

Maajidah Fleurs attends Darul Arqam Islamic High School, a private school with only 57 matriculants."I felt really sad and happy at the same time," she says when asked about school closures.

"I thought that my last year of school would be a really memorable one."

She says she never imagined that it would get bad enough for schools to be shut down and jokes that while she was happy about not having to get up early, she was "…mostly saddened by the fact that my matric year isn't going to be what I thought it would be."

"We're able to talk, but we just have to kind of yell at each other to hear what we're saying," says Farheen Parker, a learner at Rustenburg Girls' High School, about social distancing during break times.

'It's all very uncertain'

Farheen also feels that schools were reopened too early: "I do understand that not all matric students had access to online learning during the lockdown period. However, I still think the lives of students trumps losing the academic year."

She also points out the uncertainty of it all.

"There could be a large outbreak next week, and the government decides to close the schools again. Hopefully, my studies and end of year results won't be negatively affected," says Farheen.

While experts say children under the age of 19 are highly unlikely to contract Covid-19 or transmit it, there's still the risk, however small, of these students contracting it and spreading it.

Even though schools will help provide a sense of "normalcy" for these students again, it goes without saying that it will affect their mental health and when your matric year is already so tough, do you really need the added stress of a pandemic too?

Has your matriculant gone back to school?


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