Wanda Mpisi, Principal, Nogqaza Primary School, Mevana Township, Howick, South Africa.
Wanda leads a school with 780 learners through the years of compulsory education to the age of about 15. The majority of learners come from families with low incomes, often headed by older siblings or elderly grandparents, where regular meals are scarce. Learners rely on the national school nutrition programme, which is often their only regular meal.
The challenge and response
With the Covid 19 pandemic, the economic and social hardships faced by the community have been exacerbated as people lose their livelihoods and children are no longer fed at schools. The challenge has been to continue education, protect learners, teachers and staff from exposure to risk of infection and ensure that learners from poor household backgrounds receive some form of nutrition while at home, now that the government’s national feeding scheme for learners has ceased as a result of the lockdown.
As Wanda Mpisi explains, “In order to meet the need for continued education at this time and given that learners had little access to online learning, we identified Grades 1 and 7 as two grades that needed urgent intervention especially in Mathematics and Languages of learning and teaching (English in grade 7 and IsiZulu in grade 1). Grade 1 learners had just started school and were still grappling with basic foundational skills necessary for their academic development in subsequent grades. Grade 7 learners, this being their last year at primary school, were on the verge of starting their secondary school education with very little opportunity for content and skills gap remediation in subsequent grades.”
Wanda tasked his grade 1 and grade 7 language and maths teachers to develop worksheets for home learning. These were sent to learners via parents and others. Teachers communicated with learners/parents through WhatsApp and local community Facebook group chats, as well as making direct phone calls to parents to collect work from school. To meet learners’ need for food supplies during lockdown, Wanda explains, “Our school responded by preparing hot meals and communicating through community structures to have parents collect food from school every day. In addition to this, the school has a partnership with an organisation, Lodester Foundation. In terms of this partnership, Lodester Foundation supplies instant breakfast porridge for serving to our learners daily. During the lockdown period, the school worked with community structures to distribute packets of breakfast porridge to learners in their own communities.”
Being a principal for Wanda means the development of a culture of concern in his school. The teachers at his school are excited to be making a difference to the lives of children even while at home. As he says: ‘’For many years the teacher has been at the centre of the education of the child. The outbreak of Covid-19 which forced us into remote teaching and learning, may have ushered the role of a parent from peripheral role to a more central role in supporting the child in the future with the school playing a facilitator role. This project has revealed that while the majority of our learners come from impoverished backgrounds, a large majority of households have at least access to one mobile telephone which can support learning. … This project has presented me with an opportunity to assist our teachers in authentic professional development at a very challenging time.’’
(Wanda Mpisi, July 2020)
Interview and case study contributed by Dr Jane Pennefather, Mr Wonderboy Mpisi’s Master’s Thesis Supervisor, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa