Life under lockdown #1: a smiling angel in dark days

Abongile Mhlola is learning during lockdown to be an online tutor with NumberSense
Abongile Mhlola is learning during lockdown to be an online tutor with NumberSense

When Abongile Mhlola first heard about Covid-19 lockdown, she admits she was scared. The escalating numbers made her worry about her own chronic health condition. But Abongile’s nature is to stay cheerful in hard times, so much so that Mrs Macala, the Head of Department at Tamaho Primary, calls her “my smiling angel”.

She wanted to make a difference to the children she could no longer teach face to face because of the lockdown regulations. “The first thing I did was to create a WhatsApp group with the parents of ten learners. The news spread quickly and soon, we had 38 learners on board and another three interns!”

Teaching parents to teach via NumberSense

Parents learn about teaching the topics in the NumberSense workbook via WhatsApp. They were invited to talk to the tutors privately if something was unclear. “We are all learning how to do this digital thing… I never dreamed of teaching online!” she said. Initially parents struggled a bit, but they adapted and began sending videos showing what the issues were as learners transitioned from paper workbooks to digital exercises. “I could show them how to erase the number and drag in a new answer.”

“We don’t expect all the learners to be on the same page. Some are slow, some average, and some are perfect. Before Covid-19, we were using number charts, the abacus and workbooks. We divided the class up according to the learner’s performance. Now we are doing the same syllabus but using tablets and mobile phones. JumpTrak shows me each learners’ progress so that I can see who is falling behind. This helps me apply my focus accordingly.”

Motherhood, studies and being a tutor

Abongile studied for a BSc in Biological Sciences at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha after matriculating in 2004. She had to seek work as a packer in the metal industry in Joburg when her uncle passed away. He had been paying for her tertiary education and this forced her to temporarily abandon her studies.

Kungawo was born in 2010 and for six years motherhood was her first priority. Abongile started as a relief tutor at JumpStart. “I discovered I loved teaching maths, even though it was for just a month while somebody on maternity leave. I must have made a good impression because two weeks later they called me to join the team at Tamaho. My life turned around and Mrs Macala is like a mother to me.”

Keep smiling

“When my five-year-old hears people talking about Covid, he asks, ‘Mummy when will this end?’ There is real fear in his voice, which hurts my heart. The chance I got at JumpStart keeps me going. This job has helped me see life otherwise, even though I was afraid. I thought I had nothing to do because I was too old, unable to return to studies, having children and I was unemployed.

“JumpStart gave me that opportunity. I will never forget that. I feel so happy when I wake up, getting ready for work.” At 35 she is registered Bachelor of Education in Foundation Phase Teaching through UNISA. That gives Abongile joy. “When learners meet me on the street they run over to hug me. And homeschooling my daughter, is definitely a reason to keep smiling!”

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