Just about two weeks after schools reopened their doors for non-completing students, Mmegi held a long conversation with Mmei Junior Secondary School head to get a picture of some of the learning outfit’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mmegi Correspondent LESEDI MKHUTSHWA files this report
FRANCISTOWN: There was one element that could not be missed at the school entrance, which is the school’s new billboard. It’s painted in big black alphabetical letters with illustration pictures on how to be safe and 3D drawing of coronavirus.
From the observations made, everything was running smoothly as there were hand sanitisers placed at strategic points together with COVID-19 posters hanging all over the school notice boards.
On reaching the school head’s office, everything was set with all the three visitors’ chairs already positioned two metres apart from each other.
School Head, Patrocinia Sebina exuded confidence as she spoke to Mmegi about how the school had been following all the health protocols to fight COVID-19.
She further said although they tried to be perfect, there was still no guarantee of safety during pandemic.
She said: “With the new normal, we still don’t feel safe because we are dealing with a very tricky and dangerous disease. All we are doing is to just make sure that we adhere to the health protocols to fight against COVID-19.”
Regarding her role during the tough times, Sebina said that since the schools re-opened she had made it a point that she visited almost every classroom before the lessons resume. She does this so as to give both the teachers and students a little motivation so that they don’t get discouraged.
She also said during her rotational class visits, she makes sure that she emphasises the importance of adhering to the social distancing protocols, washing their hands regularly and always putting on the cloth face masks.
Sebina said that they have also strategically placed signage by the school’s classroom blocks and laboratories that reads ‘No masks No entry’.
Having been at the helm of Mmei JSS for the past four years, Sebina said since the outbreak of the disease, they have cancelled all the general Parents, Teacher Association(PTA) meetings except for executive ones so that the numbers can be limited for social distancing purposes.
She added that during this era, they make use of electronic means of group communication such as emails and WhatsApp groups so that information can reach both parents and teachers.
She further said that they were also making use of e-learning content through e-Thuto for updating the students’ performance marks of class exercises, monthly tests, examinations and even homework.
Sebina spoke about the pros and cons of double shift system which is an initiative introduced by schools to balance academic issues during the COVID-19 pandemic era.
She explained that all in all, double shift is a challenge because they had to split the school into two groups because they have shortage of academic teaching areas.
She added: “Before COVID-19 , our schools started at 7:10 am in order to cater for the morning study. During the first week after lockdown school break it became a problem for students to attend the morning study then we adjusted the time so that we can cater for it .”
On other matters, she specifically thanked to both the teaching and non-teaching staff who made sure to open all gates of the school after 6 am, and everything set for registration of students so that morning study can resume.
She also revealed that their school has made a point that all the Form 3 classes would not change their academic set up by not including them in the double shift.
According to Sebina all the Form 3s do not shift and stick to their original teachers them so that they can have ample time to prepare for their final examination.
She pointed out that that with the help
She also said that construction projects for new classroom blocks are on-going in the school premises so as to address the issue of shortage of teaching accommodation.
She acknowledged that they have shortage of teachers in the school.
Sebina said that so far every subject has an extra teacher and they are still expecting more teachers from the region.
Currently, Mmei JSS has 744 students and 58 teachers and its catchments areas include locations of Monarch, Bluetown, Aerodrome, Tatitown and Kgapamadi.
Commenting on disciplinary issues, Mmei JSS School Head briefly said that as a school there was no way they could ignore disciplinary issues.
She said that in most cases disciplinary issues go hand-in-hand with academic performance.
She added that where there is indiscipline, there is always a case of low academic performance from both the teachers and students.
Sebina said that in the past they experienced a lot of indiscipline just because the school was located at Monarch location which had a history of being famous for leading in notorious crimes such as assault, common nuisance, rape, defilement, murder and others.
She said: “In the past students from Mmei JSS were popularly known for their gangster behaviour. There was a time when violence was common amongst the students as they fought against each other as gangster rivals but that is all in the past because our students have changed their behaviour.”
She said that as a school, they had to come up with behavioural change interventions by engaging the community leaders such as the customary court presidents within their catchment areas, councillors, Member of Parliament, ward development committees (WDC), police, pastors and other relevant stakeholders so that they deal with the situation.
She added that all the above stakeholders gave motivation to their students and even attended their pastoral meetings to give them feedback on the students’ behaviour at a community level and how it can be addressed.
Sebina was happy to announce that because of the interventions put in place the school academic performance had changed for the better in the last three years.
She stated that in the 2019 Junior Certificate Examinations (JCE) results, the school made it to top 10 nationally and took position three regionally after garnering 59% pass rate.
She said that the school previously took position 34 nationally and five regionally under the same examinations for the year 2018 with a pass rate of 51.4%.
Sebina said that the school also scored percentage pass rate of 47.2%, 47.9%, and 50.4% for the years 2017, 2016 and 2015 respectively.
She indicated that they have already implemented a plan for the Forms 3s so that they can attain above 60% pass rate.
She shared reports that the plan was initiated two years ago when the current Form 3 group were doing Form 1 because they believed that for the students to perform better, it has to begin from the bottom until the top.
She also expressed gratitude to their Parents, Teachers Association executive committee for their commitment in playing a major role in the academic performance turnaround strategy.
They even spared their time to come and view the practical subject projects for the students before they were even marked for the final examinations, she said.
She also pleaded with the business community at large to adopt their school through the adopt-a-school initiative so that they can be able to boost the morale of students, teaching and non-teaching staff in order to yield better results.