In a social impact project of Stellenbosch University (SU), a series of four books will be published that aim to empower learners, teachers, parents and principals in dealing with the demands of teaching and learning both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the second book in the series recently published, Prof Jonathan Jansen, distinguished professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies hopes that the publications will have a meaningful and sustainable impact on education into the future.
The first book, Learning under lockdown: Voices of South Africa's children, appeared in September 2020. It comprises approximately 400 essays by learners between the ages of 9 and 19, sharing their experiences of coping with the lockdown and staying on track with their schoolwork. Prof Jansen and SU alumna Emily O'Ryan compiled the book after working through 640 submissions from learners across the country. The book is available at CNA bookstores.
Teaching in and beyond pandemic times, the second instalment in the series was published in July 2021. Edited by Prof Jansen and Theola Farmer-Phillips, a Mitchells Plain teacher and SU postgraduate student, this book has been compiled from the teacher's perspective. It contains several educators' accounts of the teaching challenges and successes they experienced during the lockdown.
Reflecting on this latest release, Prof Jansen describes it as an essential resource for both students and practising teachers to enrich their teaching skills and empower themselves. Unlike traditional academic publications, it was written by teachers for teachers, about immediate teaching concerns, in the first person.
The teachers' monologues were essential to enable readers to take ownership of the publication, he says. “In other words, this was not about academics overwriting teachers' voices. The intention was to give teachers a platform to express their anxieties and fears, but also share their hopes and dreams for education beyond the pandemic."
The COVID-19 restrictions forced contributors to interact in cyberspace, which, in fact, broadened the project reach. “Teachers also partnered with one another across phases and grades in ways not witnessed in pre-pandemic times. This kind of momentum must be sustained, given the endless possibilities for professional learning and networking among teachers in schools," Jansen says enthusiastically.
The publication also contains practical information on topics such as hybrid teaching beyond the pandemic. “The teachers' stories demonstrate how schools in disadvantaged areas can move beyond sole dependence on copied materials or textbooks," says Jansen. In addition, policymakers and education planners will also find the book a valuable resource on what schools need to close the academic gap between the privileged and the poor.
The idea for the project started in 2020 upon seeing how teachers, learners and parents struggled with schoolwork and the impact of the pandemic on teaching and learning, Jansen explains. “I felt the need to do more than just conduct research and write traditional academic texts. I wanted to generate the kind of books that would speak to the crisis of the time in my field," he says. The idea evolved into the conceptualisation of four books that address teachers, learners, principals and parents respectively.
SU's Social Impact Funding Committee made available funding for the start-up costs of the first two books. “With the generous funding from the University, we could launch the series, which, in essence, examines learning, teaching, parenting and leading under lockdown," says Jansen.
Work on the third and fourth books is well under way, with publication scheduled for next year. The authors are also negotiating with the Western Cape Department of Education to supply copies of the second book to schools so that teachers would have easy access to this valuable resource.
Above all, Prof Jansen is pleased that the project has managed to connect campus and communities. “This kind of social impact is meaningful and enduring, both inside and outside higher education institutions," he says.