Primary school rallies amid Covid-19

Arrow Learning. Photo: Supplied.

Arrow Academy, a small pre-primary and primary school in Centurion, adapted its approach to teaching and learning in the face of Covid-19, and with great success.

“Everything we knew about teaching disappeared overnight. We were suddenly faced with a situation no one – not only in our school but across the sector – had ever experienced before,” says Nolene Theron, Arrow Academy’s Acting Head. “Without warning, we had to make some serious changes.

At first, Arrow’s response was conservative and included PowerPoint presentations and videos that gave the leaners in each grade activities to do. But with no end to lockdown insight, the school soon realised that it had to completely rethink its approach to teaching.

The online shift

And so, Arrow pivoted. With all the tech-savviness and creativity its complement of young teachers could muster, the school moved all of its classes online. It realigned its lessons with the CAPS curriculum and put Zoom, ClassDojo and WhatsApp in place to help teachers, learners and parents learn and communicate.

In carefully considered and meaningful ways, Arrow attempted to replicate its in-person approach in an online environment. “We placed our learners in small, manageable groups, and we set clear rules so that they know what’s expected of them,” Theron says. Arrow uses teaching and learning solutions from renowned educational content provider Optimi, and parents have been able to collect their children’s workbooks so that they have everything they need.

Of course, this shift hasn’t been without its challenges. Maintaining the attention of the school’s youngest learners, who are three and four years old, has been difficult. “These lessons have been reduced to two short lessons a week,” explains Theron. “But from Grade R upwards, it’s been easier. Our bigger children in the intermediate phase have responded to the technology so well that they’re even creating their own online homework groups.”

The power of communication

Arrow Academy’s shift to online schooling has been defined, first and foremost, by open and frequent communication – both between the school and its parents and internally among its teachers.

“We’ve conducted many surveys with our parents to assess their wants and needs,” says Theron, “and the feedback they’ve provided has helped us to improve our offering and to adapt accordingly.” Parents are also provided with a full schedule a week in advance so that they know when their children’s classes will be and can make plans ahead of time.

Arrow’s teachers are constantly sharing new practices and techniques among themselves. “We rely on each other now in ways we maybe didn’t before,” says Theron, “and we’re always looking for new ideas to make our online lessons creative, fun and engaging.” Teachers have also been available for one-on-one Zoom lessons with children who have been battling.

Optimism despite the uncertainty

“If I look back to where we were in April, I’m amazed at what we’ve accomplished,” Theron adds.

“This journey has taught us that we – teachers, learners and parents – are all adaptable and resilient.”

Today, Arrow Academy is on track to meet its curriculum requirements and its learners will be able to pass their respective grades at the end of the year. The school has even enrolled new learners who haven’t been happy with their current schools’ handling of the situation.

“I don’t think we’ll ever teach the same way again,” she says. “Covid-19 has taught us that teaching never needs to be paused and that, with the right systems in place, there’s no reason for any child to fall behind.”

By Nolene Theron (B.Ed – Unisa) is Acting Head of School at Arrow Academy.