The Sunday Mail
SHE has been teaching for 17 years.
During all this time, she has only been on leave twice.
But in March this year things took a turn for the worse, a pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus engulfed the world, forcing people to stay indoors.
From Beijing to New York, schools, restaurants, bars, gyms and any other establishment deemed non-essential have been asked to close.
Zimbabwe’s government has also ordered schools to close early as part of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The lives of passionate educators like Ms. Sibongile Mafekeni have been turned upside down. The Mother Touch Primary School teacher had never been grounded at home more than normal school holidays.
But because of Covid-19, his pattern was broken.
“I believe the students of the future demand the learning support appropriate to their situation or context,” said Ms Mafekeni, who refused to let the lockdown take away her quest to impart knowledge.
The 47-year-old enthusiast always wakes up early, dresses like she’s going to work, eats breakfast at 7am but afterwards, instead of going out like she did before the lockdown, she takes her laptop and enters in it new virtual classroom.
Her first class runs from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. before taking a 30-minute break. Between 10 a.m. and noon, she leads her second class and takes another 30-minute lunch break.
“My third class then starts at 12:30 p.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m., with the last one running from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.,” she said.
“I have a busy schedule, so I get up early and get ready like I’m going to work another day. This is the first time I have experienced an indefinite pandemic-induced lockdown since I graduated as a teacher and it feels very odd.
“For years, I followed my routine. I wasn’t going to change that because of this illness. My day always starts at 6 a.m. and I get ready like I’m showing up for work.”
Ms Mafekeni said she had to dress as if she was going to school to teach ‘because on the laptop the child should see a well-dressed teacher and sometimes I also have to interact with his parents’.
Conducted in a videoconference format where all participants interact on the device’s screen, its lessons can accommodate only up to eight learners at a time.
Although she teaches the lower grades of the school where she is officially employed, her online classes cater to all grades.
In fact, some of his learners are in seventh grade and will be taking exams later this year.
However, sometimes a poor network disrupts the flow of her lessons, forcing Ms. Mafekeni to adapt, either adding more time or shifting tutoring hours slightly to accommodate the students affected.
Sometimes she has to adjust classes to one hour to accommodate all the students as the numbers continue to increase day by day.
During each lesson, she gives her students tasks to check if her lessons are well understood.
“I give them time during the lesson to write their work while I inspect, but then they submit the work after class,” she said.
After her last class of the day around 5 p.m., Ms. Mafekeni must prepare and upload the next day’s work for her learners and parents to go through before class to reduce data consumption.
The former teacher at Old Windsor, Destiny Elementary School and Wonders Christian College is using her own resources for online lessons and her students are attending lessons for ‘a small fee’.
She felt that with the ongoing global epidemic, the return to physical classes could take longer and that it was time to move to online classes.
“While many have their reservations about online courses, there is no better solution in light of Covid-19 at this time. Otherwise learners will be immensely affected if we don’t” , said Ms. Mafekeni.
“We may not be going back to school anytime soon and being a lower level teacher I understand the importance of consistency in childhood learning and development which is why I quickly adopted online courses.
“I announced the program on social media and to my surprise the response was overwhelming, so I created a website that learners use to connect and connect with the class.”
She said her learners are always enthusiastic and eager to follow instructions.
“When my work has an impact like this, the feeling is simply indescribable.”
Apart from these classes, Mrs. Mafekeni also prepares and gives homework to her Mother Touch learners to help them during the lockdown.
However, she warned that there were false teachers lurking.
“Parents should be careful, they should check the teacher’s qualifications and background, otherwise they might be deceived by deviants claiming to be qualified teachers,” she said.
The government has been at the forefront of promoting online, radio and television courses for all learners, from primary to tertiary.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education revealed that school lessons will be broadcast on radio and television, as well as published online to reach everyone over the next six months.
The return of school lessons to radio after a two-decade hiatus was officially launched on June 3 to ensure that learners do not forget content acquired over the past two years, should their current inactivity be prolonged.
Network service providers have also been told to offer free internet access to university websites so students can access learning materials online, as the government pushes to improve digital learning platforms during the national lockdown induced by Covid-19.
The government has recently advised all universities to develop materials for online lectures to ensure that learning is not disrupted while respecting the principles of social distancing and minimizing movement and interaction between students and teachers.
Teachers like Ms Mafekeni have embraced the new normal as scientists around the world work around the clock to find a cure for Covid-19 and pave the way to normalcy.