Resilience and Optimism May be the Answer

It has become a norm that when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation, a.k.a, holds a “family meeting”, the country comes to a standstill. With bated breath, we anticipate hearing which sectors of the economy will be shut down this time around, reopened, or continued, in efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections.

The education sector has been one of the hardest-hit sectors. Government schools and higher learning institutions shut down for over five months in 2020 and is currently experiencing a delayed reopening of schools in 2021.

All learners had to quickly adapt to the new norm and come to terms with plans changing, especially those transitioning from basic to higher education.

Onthatile Ditshego, our Programmes Manager, conducted a study between 2019 and 2020 to understand whether South African learners’ education indeed equips them for further education, employment, and training opportunities. Further, Onthatile’s research examines resilience; what role does it play in a learners’ success during and after matric? How can we encourage more of it? 

When we launched the Trevor Noah Foundation in 2018, we piloted our flagship programme – Khulani Schools – at New Nation School, in Vrededorp, Johannesburg. Through the programme, we partner with underserved youth in government schools for holistic development by providing psychosocial, digital and career guidance interventions. The key focus is on matric students.

By the end of our first year in operation, we had run 389 counselling sessions, installed 36 computers, conducted 44 psychometric assessments and saw 30.3% of matriculants gaining acceptance into higher learning institutions. The results demonstrated that while we couldn’t yet assess academic improvement due to our infancy, our interventions contributed to the learners’ improved mental health and well-being. 

The following year we asked the matric class of 2019 whether 2020 had turned out as they had planned and how they coped with the drastic change that came with the pandemic. Many admitted that it was extremely challenging. Still, it was interesting to see the underlying optimism and resilience which most learners showed, despite the circumstances.

One matric alumnus said:

“It did not [turn out as planned], but I learned more than I thought I would because instead of staying at home I looked for a job and started working, and I am gaining work experience.”

Another said:

“It did not turn out as planned but was able to achieve some things that I wanted to achieve. My experience after matric was great. I grew emotional intelligence and independence, and I learned how to say no and many other things about myself.

It became clear that soft skills such as contingency planning, resilience and optimism play a crucial role in how youth react to and tackle obstacles. The study also highlighted areas of improvement within our interventions.

“It wasn’t necessarily covid [that changed my plans]. I just didn’t have funding for my tertiary studies.” Responded another matric alumna.

While we provide psychosocial support, digital literacy and career guidance, improving our programming to address continuously evolving needs, is also our responsibility. Therefore, we’re committed to a continued exploration of alternative pathways to opportunities, e.g. internships, to assist learners who are unable to attend higher institutions of learning due to reasons other than COVID-19.

As we get ready to reopen schools in the next two weeks, we acknowledge that schools and parents may be nervous and filled with anxiety. However, to combat this, we encourage learners and teachers to not only practice resilience and optimism but also foster a sense of urgency and confidence when it comes to making decisions about the future.

 

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