The Sunday Mail
SHE has been teaching for 17 years.
In all that time, she has only been on leave twice.
But in March this year, things took a turn, a pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus engulfed the world, forcing people to stay indoors.
From Beijing to New York — schools, restaurants, bars, gymnasiums and any other establishments deemed non-essential were asked to close down.
The Government of Zimbabwe instructed schools to close early too as part of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The lives of passionate educators like Mrs Sibongile Mafekeni were turned upside down. The Mother Touch Primary School teacher had never been grounded at home for more than a normal school holiday.
But due to Covid-19, her pattern has been broken.
“I believe students of the future demand the learning support that is appropriate for their situation or context,” said Mrs Mafekeni, who has refused to let the lockdown take away her quest to impart knowledge.
The passionate 47-year-old still wakes up early, dresses up like she is going to work, takes her breakfast at 7am but thereafter, instead of heading out like she used to before the lockdown, she takes to her laptop and gets into her new virtual classroom.
Her first class runs from 7.30am to 9.30am before taking a 30-minute break. Between 10am and noon, she conducts her second class and takes another 30-minute lunch break.
“My third class then commences at 12.30pm and ends at 2.30pm with the last one running from 3pm to 5pm,” she said.
“The schedule is busy, so I wake up early and prepare as if I am going to work on any other day. This is the first time I have experienced a pandemic-induced indefinite lockdown since I graduated as a teacher and it feels very odd for me.
“For years, I have stuck to my routine. I was not about to change that because of this disease. My day still starts at 6am and I prepare as if I am reporting for duty.”
Mrs Mafekeni said she has to dress up like she is going to school to teach “because on the laptop the child should see a smartly-dressed teacher and sometimes I also have to interact with their parents”.
Conducted in a video conference format where all participants interact on the device screen, her lessons can only accommodate up to eight learners at a time.
Although she teaches lower grades at the school where she is formally employed, her online classes are for all grades.
In fact, some of her learners are Grade Sevens and they will be sitting for examinations later this year.
However, sometimes poor network disturbs the flow of her classes, forcing Mrs Mafekeni to adjust, by either adding more time or slightly shifting the tutoring times to accommodate the affected pupils.
At times she has to adjust the classes to one hour to accommodate all the pupils as the numbers continue to increase by the day.
During each lesson, she gives her pupils 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 lesson of the day around 5pm, Mrs Mafekeni has to prepare and upload the following day’s work for her learners and the parents to go through before the lessons to cut data consumption.
The former Old Windsor, Destiny Primary School and Wonders Christian College teacher uses her own resources for the online lessons and her students attend the classes for “a small charge”.
She felt with the ongoing global outbreak, it could take longer to revert to physical classes and that it was time to transition to online classes.
“While many have their reservations when it comes to online classes, there is no better solution in light of Covid-19 right now. Otherwise learners will be immensely affected if we do not do this,” said Mrs Mafekeni.
“We may not be going back to school anytime soon and being a lower grades teacher, I understand the importance of consistency in childhood learning and development which is why I quickly adopted online classes.
“I advertised the programme on social media and to my surprise, the response was overwhelming, so I created a website which learners use to log in and connect with the class.”
She said her learners are always enthusiastic and are eager to follow instructions.
“When my work makes an impact like this, the feeling is just indescribable.”
Apart from these classes, Mrs Mafekeni also prepares and gives assignments to her Mother Touch learners to help them during lockdown.
However, she warned that there were bogus teachers on the prowl.
“Parents should be careful, they need to check on the teacher’s qualifications and background otherwise they may be tricked by deviants claiming to be qualified teachers,” she said.
The Government has been at the forefront of pushing for online, radio and television lessons for all learners from primary to tertiary education.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has revealed that school lessons will be broadcast on radio and television, as well as being published online to reach everyone over the next six months.
The return of school lessons to radio after a two-decade break was officially launched on June 3 to ensure learners do not forget the content gained over the past two years, if their present inactivity was prolonged.
Network service providers have also been asked to offer free internet access to university websites so that students can access online learning material, as Government moves to enhance digital learning platforms during the Covid-19-induced national lockdown.
Government recently advised all universities to develop material for online lectures to ensure learning is not disrupted while at the same time upholding the social distancing principles an minimising movement and interaction between students and lecturers.
Teachers like Mrs Mafekeni have embraced the new normal as scientists the world over work round the clock to find a cure for Covid-19 and pave the path to normalcy.