South Africa

YOUTH SPEAK | 'It is easy for me in 2021, but not for my peers'

YOUTH SPEAK | 'It is easy for me in 2021, but not for my peers'

Editor’s note: This essay is part of a June 16 series published on TimesLIVE on Youth Day. The Sunday Times last year published extracts from the book Learning under Lockdown, compiled by professor Jonathan Jansen and Emily O’Ryan to celebrate Youth Day. Fast-forward to 2021: some stories reveal further heartbreak while others have happier endings. The series of essays published today on TimesLIVE looks at where these children are now, a year later.

2021: Grade 9, Rustenburg Girls’ High School in Rondebosch, Cape Town

Since February this year, I have been going to school every day, and attending hockey practices three to four times a week. My school is still able to do sports.

I am also part of the orchestra and ensemble. Our halls are safe for music bands and orchestras to continue.

We have pre-recorded assemblies and we watch them at school every Monday on our smart boards. We use apps such as Google Meet and Google Classroom for school work if we are absent and can’t come to school. For example, when you came into contact with someone who has Covid-19 or you have Covid-19.

At the beginning of the year, we got QR codes. We use these to get into school and they record whether we have symptoms. They take our temperature. This is, however, not the reality for many other pupils. They do not have devices and technology, and can’t go to school every day due to space constraints. This angers me. They do not an environment like mine.

Education in this country is unequal, and Covid-19 has exposed these inequalities.

In 2020, I suffered from a mental illness. I was very privileged to have the support of family and access to therapy. One of the causes of my mental illness was my disconnection from life and school life.

I think it is important to go to school and socialise with people because it is good for mental health.

What makes me angry is that some children are not able to go to school every day. It’s about children having an outlet, to dance, to play, to do sports and socialise. It’s all about connecting to school life.

It is easy for me in 2020, but not for my peers.

I felt very privileged to be published in a book titled Learning Under Lockdown as a young black South African girl. Out of thousands of other children, I was granted a voice as a young South African.

I enjoyed reading other pupils’ articles because they broadened my view of how I’m not the only young  South African girl who is going through learning under lockdown.

Young black South African women need to be heard and granted voices, too.

One of the main organisers of the book was Prof Jonathan Jansen. I admire him very much. I listen to some of his interviews. He is very inspiring.

2020: Grade 8 at Rustenburg Girls’ High School

I find online learning easy because my school provides iPads for all pupils. We receive daily e-mails saying new work has been posted on Google Classroom.

I love the fact that we can manage our own time. I find it easy because I have a good work ethic. I found it fun learning outside of my schooling environment. I was able to learn from my parents, older brother and sister and not only within the classroom. I enjoyed having a bigger picture of the South African authenticity due to all the media and openness about Covid-19 and the many voices who poke about discrimination in SA.

But this is not the reality for many other 14-year-olds, and this is why I wish I could have a voice to challenge the injustice in the SA education system today. I consider myself to be privileged because my learning during lockdown has not been disrupted. I am very fortunate to have unlimited Wi-Fi access in my home and all the relevant devices to facilitate my learning.

At Rustenburg Girls’ High we will most definitely be able to practice social distancing once school has started. We have the luxury of space and a limited number of pupils per classroom. This has got me thinking about the poor and vulnerable in SA.

There are at least 50 to 60 children in one classroom. How will they practice social distancing? How will teachers manage all the added responsibilities pertaining to health and safety of pupils in poorer schools? Sending the grade 12s and 7s back to school during this time, especially in rural areas, is a crazy idea. Most rural areas don’t even have running water and proper bathroom facilities. How are pupils going to get to school safely?

Taxis, Golden Arrow buses and lift clubs are going to get even fuller, which creates more risk.

I wonder how many pupils have had no access and no learning for this entire lockdown. Covid-19 has again exposed the inequalities in our country. Nothing has changed in our country for the poor and vulnerable.

“Until we get equality in education we won’t have an equal society,” said justice Sonia Sotomayor from the US Supreme Court.

We need equality in education before equality in society.

My parents and many other black South Africans missed an entire year of school in 1985 due to apartheid. Most turned out just fine. Instead of using this time to send children back to school, why does the government not take this time to work on the problems in the country’s education? We need a new curriculum, we need equal access and we need equal resources. If we don’t fix this now it will become worse and when we face the next crisis, the inequalities will again be ripped wide open. As a 14-year-old I do have a voice and I will use it to continuously challenge inequalities in my country.