Being a Grade 12 learner is a massive challenge for many students across South Africa, especially those living in poor communities. If it is not load shedding, it is a lack of access to study material and even minor things such as data to conduct basic research.
However, being a Grade 12 learner during a pandemic as devastating and disrupting as the current Covid-19, is even more daunting. In fact, for many learners, Covid-19 has amplified the multiple challenges they have to face as South Africa and the world adapt to living in a ‘new normal’ of social distancing, regular 20 second handwashing and wearing face masks.
This new normal, and the national lockdown levels which for some time led to the suspension of schooling for many learners in the public-school sector, has disrupted the Basic Education Department’s plans to support matrics, further piling more pressure on the already stressed-out class of 2020.
While educators and learners have put in the hard work and attempted to cope with the impact of the pandemic as best as possible through online teaching and learning, Covid-19 has caused a ”paradigm shift, leading to uncertainty, disappointment and loss” . This will affect more than 1.1 million candidates taking the 2020 combined matric exam, beginning on 5 November and ending 15 December.
In response to the challenges facing the Class of 2020, the Old Mutual Foundation and several of its partners have set up an exciting campaign to support the Matric Class of 2020 called ‘21 Acts of Goodness’ (#21ActsOfGoodness).
The campaign, which is being rolled out throughout the country, emphasises “service, volunteerism, and active citizenship”, said Fikile Kuhlase, head of the Old Mutual Foundation. The 21 partners involved in the campaign include the Nelson Mandela Foundation, loveLife, the Basic Education Department, Brand SA, Kaizer Motaung Jr Foundation, Macmillan SA, Imbumba Foundation and FoondaMate.
At the event, ‘21 Acts of Goodness for the Matric Class of 2020’, held on Friday 18 September 2020 at the Lenasia South Civic Centre, Kuhlase, who was joined by representatives of the partner organisations and foundations, addressed the learners. Kuhlase gave some vital moral support to the Class of 2020 as they knuckle down to face their toughest test since beginning formal schooling.
”As the Old Mutual Foundation, education is our biggest portfolio and we thought: what is it that we can do now after this devastating impact of Covid-19? We thought the people who need the most assistance at this point are the matrics. How we differentiated our offering was (that) we thought we don’t just want to do what others do and just decide for these matric students without asking them”.
“So, we went out on 24 July and asked the matrics in a live-stream session what it is that they needed,” said Kuhlase.
The live stream session was led by 21 Acts enablers, including Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, public speaker and youth empowerment ambassador Luvuyo Madasa, radio and television personality Mpumi Mbethe, actress Kamohelo Molatlhoe, businesswoman Nonkululeko Mdluli, and mountain climber and founder of the Imbumba Foundation Richard Mabaso.
The needs of the matric students were documented and categorised, ensuring that the foundation “responded to the needs that they (the learners) identified”. These included solar-powered lamps for studying during load shedding and space for studying due to cramped/crowded conditions at home.
”A lot of the students said they needed data and connectivity because now learning is (all through) e-learning and online resources. So, almost all of them needed data to be able to access the past matric exam papers,” Kuhlase said.
It is that overwhelming need for support to access online resources that led the Old Mutual Foundation and its partners to commit to supplying 67 000 connections to matric students. It is also the reason that motivational speaker and entrepreneur, Miles Khubeka, started FoondaMate, a free Chatbot solution that works on the popular social media platform, WhatsApp.
“What it means is that you can download any past paper without paying – it’s zero-rated. In fact, we (FoondaMate) pay for it – it costs us 50c per download. You can download as many past papers as you want,” he said. The Chatbot, which was launched two weeks ago, has now seen an incredible 150 000 downloads. The FoondaMate number for learners is: 060 055 8055.
Another matter which the Old Mutual Foundation will assist the Class of 2020 with – repeatedly raised during the live stream session – is the emotional and psychological well-being of the learners.
“They are very anxious. They are scared about what is going to happen to them. So, that is why psycho-social support came up as among the top priorities,” Kuhlase said. To attend to that need, the foundation is working with loveLife and other partners who specialise in providing support to those who are depressed or stressed out. LoveLife, has a ‘please call me’ line for those who need to talk but lack funds.
“We also engaged the National School of the Arts, who will be compiling a chronicle of sorts for the matrics, showing how they are coping with the exams during Covid-19. This is just about relieving the pressures,” Kuhlase said.
One of the issues that female learners specified, especially those in higher grades, was the lack of access to sanitary pads.
Mountaineer, Richard Mabaso, whose organization is said to have distributed more than 1.2 million sanitary pads to learners since 2010, said they had committed to distributing 67 000 more pads to disadvantaged female matric students as part of the 21 Acts campaign.
“The lack of sanitary pads can make one girl miss up to 50 days of school a year, which, if they don’t have, or if they use other unhealthy alternatives that can make them uncomfortable, will result in them not doing well at school. Or it will just discourage them from going to school at all,” Mabaso said.
The Imbumba Foundation will also be helping 27 000 matriculants apply for university and NSFAS aid. Kaizer Motaung Jr, one of the speakers at the 21 Acts event, also offered to provide various types of support to matric students. “We are here as an enabler of this campaign – the 21 Acts of Goodness – and offer support to matric students in many ways, whether it’s food packs, whether it’s sanitary towels, or data. We are saying to the matrics: call on us for anything,” he said. Motaung Jr asked matric learners to reach out for assistance on the foundation’s social media.