Bless and protect our children

The load shedding this week is not the only disturbance that the matric class of 2021 faces as they begin writing their final exams. Having had to endure the cost of lockdowns and class disruption for two years, the class of 2021 deserves our greatest support and pride. The 2020 matric students known as the ‘pandematriculants’ were at the coal front of uncertainty and disruption as COVID-19 began to impact our everyday lives. The class of 2021 have had this compounded. Their final two critical years of school education involved adapting to new learning and studying methods, and disruptions of all kinds have been normalised into their learning schedules.

Matric is a significant milestone for most young people in South Africa. It is the final year of secondary schooling and marks the beginning of independence for many and the hope for a brighter future. As with many other things, COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities, including education. While private schools in South Africa could bolster students with online resources and teaching support, learners in under-resourced public schools have faced the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Limited additional resources to support online learning, changes in class sizes for safe learning and rotational timetables are just some of the challenges faced.

As we pray and support those writing their final exams, let us also hold in our thoughts those who have not made it to this point. There have been significant increases in learner drop-outs since the beginning of the pandemic. The National Income Dynamics Study reported that between 650 000- 750 000 learners have dropped out of school in South Africa in the last year of the pandemic. Learner drop-out usually results from a general disengagement with the school environment resulting from both circumstances within the school, for example, getting poor grades and incompetent teaching, and the learner’s socio-economic and household circumstances which may result in limited social and emotional support. Poverty exacerbated by COVID-19 is a major contributor to the drop-out rate.

For many learners, the anxiety of catching up after the pervading disruptions may keep them from school. However, COVID-19 is here to stay, and we need to ensure we build school systems that inspire learning. We cannot lose a generation of learners because of the impact of COVID-19 and the failure to respond adequately to this change.

Take a moment this weekend to think about young people writing their exams and those that may be feeling the darkness of disappointment and anxiety in not having made it to this point. Is there some way you could assist or support a learner as they are writing their exams?

Loving God, In a world of harmony and brokenness, peace and conflict, protect our children and young people from images that harm, from words that wound and the hurt of broken promises. We give thanks for our young people; for their vibrancy, their ability to see things as they are, their sense of injustice and their desire to build a fairer world. We pray for your protection in their lives. Help us to recognise stress and sadness, despair and loneliness; to share the burden in whatever way we can; to find the place where help is waiting. Loving God be our guide; bless and protect our children and young people. May they grow and flourish in the beauty of the world that you have made. Amen.

Abigail Dawson

Abigail Dawson holds a Masters in Development Studies, Sociology, from the University of Witwatersrand. Her activist and academic interests have focused on migration in a South African context. She is a qualified social worker and has provided counselling for migrant women and children. She hopes to bring change to the current public and global narrative on migration through effective and creative communication, networking and advocacy to ensure equitable communities for all people living in South Africa.

abigail.dawson@jrs.net
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