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It has been a long, tough two years for teachers — no...

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Opinionista

It has been a long, tough two years for teachers: Like our migrating swallows, now is the time for rest

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Prof Michael le Cordeur is the Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Education Faculty at the University of Stellenbosch.

The Covid pandemic has revealed all the natural enemies of education. Most of these challenges are still with us: schools are still overpopulated and there is no money for new ones. Some schools still have no electricity, water, toilets or libraries. While it is becoming clearer that online teaching is here to stay, most schools do not have these facilities.

If you are a chrysanthemum grower, you must get up at the crack of dawn. You must water the plants in the early morning, because watering in the evening in our hot summers leads to fungal diseases which require an intensive spraying programme. As an exotic plant, the chrysanthemum has many natural enemies like cutworms which cause permanent damage. Therefore, you must inspect your plants regularly. If they are wilted there is a problem with the roots and without a healthy root system growth of beautiful flowers is impossible. Then extra nourishment is required.

It was during one of these morning sessions that a familiar exuberant chirping drew my attention. And there they sat. My European swallows who visit at this time every year to make themselves at home in my chrysanthemum garden. It makes me wonder where they spend the other six months of the year. Perhaps under a steeply pitched roof in an often-snowbound Swiss town?

Suddenly I envy my swallows. Would it not be nice to sometimes escape from the world of education with all its problems and challenges to a country far from here for a while? Just think how refreshed we would return! Since Covid-19 hit us in March 2020, teachers have not had an easy time. Thousands, maybe millions of people’s lives have changed irrevocably. Many teachers have died. Families have lost a father or mother or both. And just when we were ready to relax, the Omicron variant and the fourth wave hit us.

The Covid pandemic has revealed all the natural enemies of education. Most of these challenges are still with us: schools are still crammed and there is no money for new ones. Some schools still have no electricity, water, toilets or libraries. While it is becoming clearer that online teaching is here to stay, most schools do not have these facilities. The drop-out rate, teen pregnancies and teacher absenteeism are higher than ever. This brings new challenges which make further demands on teachers.

This all has a negative effect on the morale of teachers and learners. Like a deadly fungal disease, it can paralyse education and even destroy it. Teachers are exhausted and their energy levels are low due to working under pressure for the last two years. They urgently need mental revitalisation. Intensive and focused intervention is required so that they can be an inspiration again for our learners. Everything starts with a healthy root system.

Most teachers will bounce back, however. Their honest and hard work will be rewarded with the announcement of the results. Then their learners will bloom like exuberant chrysanthemums. Some teachers will retain lasting scars where the pandemic cut deep wounds, but most will be back in their posts next year.

Now there is a chance to rest, and even if teachers cannot fly away to Switzerland like my swallows, I trust that you will at least escape from the stress. Enjoy the break. You deserve every moment.

This is the last column for the year. Thank you to all my readers for your valued inputs. I wish you a blessed festive season and stay safe. DM

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