Learning Under Lockdown – Highly Commended

These 10 stories were among the judges favourites in our Learning Under Lockdown competition.  Here they are, in no particular order, each one as special as the other ….

  • Zola Sampson, Grade 10 (Applying the lessons from my journey around Africa)
  • Sibobo Nyathi, Grade 11 (Shifting the focus from academics to self)
  • Undiphile Mpafa, Grade 10 (Learning in a one-roomed home)
  • Nerrissa Sucrum, Grade 12 (Appreciating life and family)
  • Sisonke Del Fava, Grade 11 (Corona – the new fella in town)
  • Thutho Thekiso, Grade 11 (Pros and cons of lockdown)
  • Lendicha Kuvare, Grade 11 (Lessons of learning in lockdown in rural Namibia)
  • Mbalenhle Mkhize, Grade 10 (The invaluable support of family- biological and other)
  • Nqobile Khuzwayo, Grade 10 (Refusing to allow the virus to steal your future)
  • Jodi-Terri Muleshi, Grade 11 (Tough situations build strong people)
  • Nhlakanipho Khumalo, Grade 12 (Aiming for straight As in Matric- despite the lockdown)

1. Zola Sampson – Grade 10

On July 1st 2013, my family set off on a journey clockwise around the coast of Africa in our Big Green Truck to raise awareness about climate change on the continent. The truck runs on waste vegetable oil (WVO) instead of fossil fuels like petrol or diesel, and all our electricity comes from solar panels on the roof. In six and a half years, we travelled 47000km through 38 countries and had 27 breakdowns.

I was homeschooled all the way from Grade 3 to Grade 9, except for the year we had to leave the truck in Liberia during the Ebola pandemic of 2014-15. So I am used to doing lessons whether dripping with sweat from hideous humidity, flapping at ferocious flies, or bouncing along a bumpy goat track. We did school Monday to Friday no matter what.

As we were nearing the end of our voyage, the truck underwent three engine rebuilds: in Tanzania, Malawi and Durban. We spent 185 days of 2019 stuck in garages. Just imagine doing school while being stranded in a mechanics’ workshop, where they start hammering at 7 in the morning and only finish at 11 at night. With the constant revving of lorries and blaring of horns – not to mention choking paint fumes.

In comparison, doing school under lockdown at home is a breath of fresh air. I’m not woken by reverse warning alarm beeps. Instead of looking out the truck door at a concrete wall, I have a beautiful view of the mountain out of my window. Instead of being stuck in a 3m2 space with three other people, I’ve got my own room, which means I can slam my door with utter satisfaction when I’m in a mood!

However, I am using the same techniques I learned on the road to keep myself stable, focused and calm. The first and most important is routine. Exercise every morning is vital to concentrate the mind. My Mom says that when I was 10 I would get my lessons finished a lot quicker after spending an hour in the surf first thing.

Daily exercise not only means you work more efficiently, you also sleep better and worry less. I try and get hard stuff like Maths done early in the day while I am most alert. I also make sure I eat regularly or I find myself getting grumpy. I do some creative stuff to keep positivity levels up: play around on my keyboard or reading for some escapism.

For me, going back to mainstream school last October was quite stressful. Although it was fun to hang out with other teens again, I found it overwhelmingly loud and tiring at first. Back at home, I’m enjoying being independent and self-reliant again. Our trek around Africa taught me that the only thing you can rely on is constant change and challenges. As a result of learning such resilience, I am now ‘Zola’ by name and ‘zola’* by nature.

* Zola means ‘calm’ or ‘chilled’ in isiXhosa

See https://africaclockwise.wordpress.com/   for photos and videos

2. Sibongiseni Caleb Nyathi – Grade 11  (Africa Oil Week Student Ambassador)

Has learning under the lockdown regulations turned the focus from academics to learning about ourselves, family problems and what we, teenagers, seem to forget or take for granted?

The answer is simple, yes.

The lockdown has placed our basic foundation that leads to a better future for all young South Africans on hold. We are now faced with a gargantuan problem that we cannot avoid but need to face and that is having to attend school at home: learning under the lockdown regulations.

It has been, personally and for some young South Africans, quite a difficult thing to do.

My learning and sleeping schedules have been distorted. I would wake up around about 10am and only about 12pm would I be starting with my school work, sometimes even earlier, so I guess you can say that time management is one of the few things that we, as teenagers, needed to learn about during this lockdown period.

Online learning has too become a true living struggle. I bet we have made many cellular providers stinking rich during this lockdown period.

Many students do not even have access to the internet, let alone a mobile device and I hope those who have access to these seemingly unexpected educational necessities, do not take it for granted: guilt should come along with having the device.

Having to attend school at home during the lockdown has honestly changed my learning style, for example when I need to take down notes, back at school I would need a peaceful and quiet place to do such, now all that I need is just calm soothing music to get me in the learning mood.  The music should not be too loud, just loud enough for my ears to hear – although my mom would say otherwise.

Although she can be quite busy at times, my mom makes sure that I do my work and that I watch education programs on television.

Learning at home might be a breeze for some, but for those who relied on school for food and to run away from family problems, every day of this lockdown may have been a cloudy day with heavy showers.

We teenagers go through personal problems too at times and being at home isn’t the right place to deal with those issues. Some of us may need a hug from our friends, our study buddies or a teacher to explain the work or that one teacher that we are comfortable talking to when all is not well.

Learning under the lockdown regulations might be just fine for me, but what about those that cannot say the same??  And it is times like these when we  need to appreciate what we have, during or before the lockdown period, whether big or small.

Sibobo with his mom (left) and sister, pictured before the lockdown
Sibobo with his mom (left) and sister, pictured before the lockdown

3. Undiphile Mpafa, Grade 10

Schools were closed early at the end of term one because of a Covid-19 pandemic that spread and annihilated innocent souls worldwide and the best way to prevent the spread of this disease was for the world to be in lockdown.

The lockdown has affected everyone, and as learners we could not just sit and do nothing, we had to learn online.

Learning during lockdown has to be the hardest thing I have ever done.

I thought it would be fun but now I just cannot cope at all.

Thing is, I stay in a one roomed house, with a self-employed mom who is a fashion designer and my two siblings. It is very hard for me to get enough time to study while everyone is around as there are too many distractions.

I tried to find a better solution for this by studying midnight, when everyone is sleeping and it is quiet. But my disadvantage of learning at midnight is that my neighbourhood is not safe, I’d hear things moving on top of the roof, or people getting chased around the neighbourhood and I’d get scared and decide to sleep.

I am a very dedicated child, devoted to my work but I was not able to buy enough data to get all my schoolwork done using WhatsApp and some websites. If it wasn’t for Mrs Owen and the Lawhill Trust, I do not know where I would have been with my schoolwork. She made sure that I always have data when I needed it. I am so grateful for that.

The lockdown has seriously revealed to us how we need other people, and how the Lawhill Trust has come in handy to many of us.  It has also shown how much we value our education and even if your living arrangements are not good, the power is in your hands to decide on how to face each challenge as it comes.

Undi, pictured far right, with her family before the lockdown
Undi, pictured far right, with her family before the lockdown

4. Nerissa Sucrum, Grade 12

COVID-19. Wow, who ever thought that one day we would be forced to stay at home because of a pandemic that threatened to take or lives…our future…our families?

Who ever thought that for many students, going to school would soon become a distant memory longing to make its return to reality?

This pandemic has changed our day to day lives. Many were quite delighted to be back home. For others, it brought the fear of not being able to put food on the table.

For me, it was a bit of both. I was happy to be back at home but with my parents not being able to go to work, I worried about how we would survive and what we would do if what we had, ran out. I am grateful it did not get to that.

This lockdown has, more than anything, shown me that we have taken a lot of things for granted. We have taken school for granted. The teacher- learner interaction has a greater learning impact than any other form of learning. Being in classes pushes you to focus, to learn, to understand and to test your understanding. And we have taken that for granted.

While the best experiences of lockdown has to be the time I’ve spent with my family, the worst was the struggle of getting myself to study in the midst of all the distractions, the fear, and the noise that surrounded me.

Keeping up to speed with my studies has been a struggle but I am tremendously grateful to my school and my family for their support and assistance. I am grateful to have people who constantly look out for me. They have motivated me to keep going despite the challenges – because what we do in the present echoes into our future.

Nevertheless I am grateful for life and for those around me. This experience has taught me that together we can do anything, and that life is fragile – HANDLE WITH CARE.

Nerrisa Sucrum, far left, at home in Harding, rural Kwazula Natal
Nerrisa Sucrum, far left, at home in Harding, rural Kwazula Natal

5. Sisonke Del Fava, Grade 11

A shock of a pandemic that leaves the globe uncertain, and with many unanswered questions, still explores itself until now.

When I first heard of this virus I thought it would be like any other past viruses that would just knock on the door and pass by, but no, this time there is this new fella in town who decides to knock and stay and to have a sip on many people’s livelihoods.

Life around the globe is moving at a very slow, pedestrian pace and for many that is unusual and unfortunately that is something that we have to hold on to for the moment.

The least we can do is stay safe and adhere to the given rules.

Learning under lockdown is indeed something unusual for me.

They say you have to adapt or die and I chose to adapt, but what a rollercoaster ride it was on my first attempt to open my books.

My work ethic at the beginning was floppy but as time went by, I picked up the pace and got back on track.

I decided to not only focus on school books but to do things that were out of my comfort zone, like reading a book with more than 400 pages and having to complete it within three days.

I even took the time to reflect on myself and my goals and how I could develop a prosperous mindset to achieve them.

Every experience provides a lesson and this lockdown period really taught me that no matter how tough or easy a situation can be, the outcome will always be determined by how you choose to think, and that is either positively or negatively.

I love the fact that I managed to keep myself motivated and am grateful for the time I spent with my family. It really warmed my heart. After all, the smallest things do make the biggest difference.

Sisonke Del Fava (centre) and family

6. Thuto Thekisho, Grade 11

For me learning under lockdown has its pros and cons.

Learning under lockdown started as a bit of a challenge for me, because I left most of my books at the hostel thinking that I would be going home for a short holiday.

I was not aware that schools would close such a long time. Ahough I left most of my books at home, I downloaded some of them on the internet and our school opened WhatsApp groups for us, so I asked some of my classmates to send me pictures of some books that I did not have. They were helpful!

After I had all the books I needed to study from, I was very happy because I could start studying.

I am a person who likes to study alone, so learning under lockdown was not that difficult for me, but I missed asking my wonderful teachers questions about things I did not understand. Even though there were WhatsApp groups to ask questions, it was not the same. This said, I am lucky that my parents are teachers and even though they do not teach all of the subjects, they helped me a lot and always supported me and checked if I was still doing well.

As time went by without schools opening, I started losing hope and became frustrated. I started learning less to the point where I stopped studying, because I thought that there was no point of learning if schools were not going to be opened any time soon.

I eventually told my teacher about this problem. He told me that I must not lose hope and to keep studying because schools will not be closed forever. So, to this day I study daily for about four hours a day. I know that schools will open one day and it is better to be prepared for when they open.

I miss school a lot, because it is a place where I get together with other learners and share ideas, It is difficult doing this over electronics.

But I gained a lot from studying during lockdown. I have learned to be more independent and how to balance my work.

I also learnt that it is kind of challenging to learn without a teacher, so teachers are really important!

I encourage other learners to keep learning, because they must be prepared for whenever schools open. They must talk to other learners to see how they can help each other and do so by opening WhatsApp groups.

I hope everyone is safe during this pandemic and keeps will, because soon this will be over.

Thutho Thekiso at home, with his siblings, in Welkom
Thutho Thekiso at home, with his siblings, in Welkom

7. Lendicha Kuvare, Grade 11

I’m from village in Namibia called Coblenz and learning under lockdown has brought both challenges and benefits.

I have struggled to learn not having proper technological devices as school work is now sent via social media platforms.  The intenet has also been slow and data expensive. Most people in Namibia moved from the urban to rural areas to be in lockdown with their families and this caused the internet connection in my village – which was very poor– to slow down even more.

As one’s mind needs a conducive environment to study, I find it difficult to study at home as there are lots of distractions. Our house is next to the road so I am distracted by speedy cars passing by. I live with my grandmother so I don’t get any school help from parents as I do not live with any.

Another challenge I face is instilling a sense of purpose. Getting mixed messages/information about the pandemic causes confusion as to whether we will be going back to school or not and if studying is worthwhile or not.

As with every situation there are two sides of the coin and learning under lockdown is no exception. Despite having to face those challenges, the lockdown has been an eye opener. I had been skeptical of my capabilities but now I know I can.

I was able to strategize and overcome most of my challenges.  For example, I asked my former school’s principal for access to a classroom where I can study during the day to avoid distraction at home. And I overcame the slow internet challenge by working at night when most people are sleeping and the internet is a bit better and I’m able to study online.

Learning under lockdown may seem hard but if you are determined and willing to make sacrifices I assure you you will succeed in your studies.

This has been my experience of having to learn under lockdown, I hope it will inspire a lot of people.

8. Mbalenhle Mkhize, Grade 10

The year in my new school started with lots of dreams until this novel Coronavirus came and everything seemed to be going down the drain.

Learning under the pandemic lockdown was a good idea to keep us in track with all the school work even though it came with responsibility such as time management which was a hard thing to me as teenager!

Many times during this lockdown I wasn’t able to manage my time wisely but my dearest mother was there to help me by reminding me that I’m still a learner and I have to study.

At school they helped  with online learning even though I felt as if it wasn’t enough as I missed learning in the classroom with other learners,  Everything seemed to be more easier at school because we were  able to even study in groups.

With all of that in my mind, my second family, the Lawhill Maritime Centre was still in touch with me and that made me feel a lot better as the corona virus had caused a lot of stress.  I have been thinking alot about going back to school and although it seemed impossible, Lawhill was there keeping me updated.

All I can say is that learning under this lockdown taught me responsibility and to be thankful of all the time that the teachers spend on teaching me, even though I didn’t realise that when everything was well.

It has also taught me to be thankful of everything I have because there is a child out there who is wishing he or she had what I have now,  the education   love and support in this hard time!

Mblalenhle Mkhize (far right) and family
Mblalenhle Mkhize (far right) and family

8. Nqobile Khuzwayo, Grade 10

Learning during the Covid-19 pandemic has been very difficult. Coming from a poor family that lives in a shack, the noises and the discomfort made it difficult for me to concentrate during the lockdown.

However, I decided that I will not let Coronavirus steal my bright future.

I ensured that I kept studying by making a timetable for myself. I needed to balance all my nine subjects especially Maths, Nautical Sciences and Physics, therefore I tried my best to study at least two subjects a day. Although it was not easy, my spiritual life helped me a lot.

I was lucky to have access to internet facilities which I used for my online learning. Being a new experience for me, I soon learnt to adjust for the sake of my future.

My mother, who is uneducated, supported me all the way and I really appreciate her for such. The virtual learning made me feel like I was in school as I was in touch with my other classmates.

Learning at home is quite difficult as I was easily distracted, but because I had the chance to study properly at night, I changed my sleeping patterns. I usually start studying around 23:00 and study utill 03:00 when people start waking.

I miss my school, the conducive environment for studying, the discipline enforced and the opportunities for extra-curriculum activities.

A tip that I would give other students is that firstly, tell yourself what is it you want to achieve, secondly create a study timetable and be committed to it and thirdly, it is important to understand when your body is most responsive and use that time to study.

Finally, know that whatever you do now, echoes into your future.

9. Jodi-Terri Muleshi, Grade 11

“When everything seems to be against you, remember that an aeroplane takes off against the wind, not with it”.

Learning under lockdown was an unbelievable experience. My imagination got the better of me. It felt as if I was on some sort of strange voyage that consisted of terrible weather conditions and I just couldn’t reach my destination.

At the beginning of the pandemic I faced a bundle of negativity, everything felt as if it was falling apart.

I lacked purpose and motivation and was at the verge of giving up on my school work until I woke one morning and remembered that “tough situations build strong people”.

That gave me motivation and helped me boost my self-confidence.

I faced a lot of negativity during lockdown, among them the community I am from, the lack of internet access and the lack of income earned in my household. But I was determined those obstacles would not get the better of me.

There were positives too. At the end of the tunnel there’s always light and I chose to look beyond the inconveniences to the many advantages quarantining has brought to many of our lives.

I usually spend an average of six hours of school work per day and my parents assist me where they can.  My school has also tried their best, reaching out to us to make sure that we are coping.

The best moments were the opportunity to do a few non-school activities such as gardening, baking, cooking, reading non-curriculum books and playing many indoor mind games.

I enjoyed the self-paced learning, paying attention to the tough subjects I struggled with having time for quality family time.

The lockdown has taught me two lessons.

It has taught me that where you are right now does not determine where you will end up in the future.

It has also taught me that success does not come with comfort zones,

We may not be facing a comfortable situation right now but behind this pandemic are lots of amazing opportunities awaiting each and every one of us.

The crisis has brought communities together and I salute each and every one facing this pandemic. We will definitely get through this together as one proud nation.


Jodi-Terri Muleshi's mom (centre) and family

Jodi-Terri Muleshi’s mom (centre) and family

10. Nhlakanipho Khumalo, Grade 12

20 MARCH 2020; the day when schools closed because of Covid-19. A few days before I had written a test for my favourite subject, mathematics. But the sudden closure of schools made the road ahead feel steeper and steeper and it felt as if my great future was slowly fading away.

I always knew that Grade 12 (Matric) would not be an easy grade. It’s not an easy grade when you are at school every day, so not going to school would make it even harder.

Heading home from Cape Town on the bus, I spent time working out a daily schedule because it was clear to me that we were going to stay at our homes for a long time.

Drawing up a schedule made me realise why our teachers want us to use a school timetable; they are preparing us for greater success, to focus on what is important, to overcome procrastination. Timetables help us get up and do what we are supposed to do, and I needed one to ensure I would not procrastinate when it came to my future.

During lockdown my family was very supportive, giving me enough time to do my school work and not expecting me to do house chores all the time (because chores never end).

Studying alone is not the same as having a teacher in front of you and telling you what is what. I tried really hard to teach myself new school work but it was like I was doing nothing at all. I would wake up the next day not remembering much, only the topic. I even tried to draw up a new schedule but nothing changed. So I took a break for a day to think about my situation and how to change it.

My guardian angel arrives and I hear him whispering in my ear saying “you must help others to help yourself”. I have a sister in matric and checkmate! I started helping my sister and she also did the same for me. And guess what, I found a new teacher in my own house. That day I learnt that kindness pays dividends and I realised that the steep road I saw ahead, was becoming flat.

I am very good at Mathematics and in helping my sister I realised I was only showing her what I already knew, and not the work I didn’t know.  So, I sacrificed my sleeping time and spent time figuring out the new work. Although I would hear people snoring in their rooms, I would be motivated because I was studying a subject I love and was being challenged.

I would start studying at 09:00  and work until 17:00 and at night from 20:00 to 22:00, with 20 minute breaks.

Some subjects, such as Nautical Science, need someone with experience to explain the work to you and that person is Captain Schlemmer, my teacher. One day we received notes from him and I studied them but couldn’t understand much.  So I turned to YouTube for a solution and found videos of people explaining exactly what I needed to know.

Online learning with my teachers went well, and I thank them for reaching out to us and doing their best to help us understand the work better.

Learning under lockdown was hard, but full of great experiences. And guess what, I’m going to pass Matric with As.

To all the students out there I want to encourage you to remain resolute and to keep studying. You’ve probably heard that “tough times do not last forever, but tough people do”.

Lockdown was an opportunity for us to show the world how tough we are – and how much we care about our school work.

Let us show the world that we are not what we think we are or  what they think we are; we are far more.

khumalo lockdown cr
Nhlakanipho Khumalo (left, back) and siblings at their home in Estcourt, Natal