Life under lockdown #3: Given Msibi in his own words

Given Msibi
Given Msibi teaches his nephew during lockdown. Young children need tactile input to learn cognitive skills like counting.

Given Msibi is a tutor with a fire for words. He observed and articulated the struggles of his colleagues and the learners in his care during lockdown. A drummer in his church band, Given takes every opportunity to stand up as a motivational speaker. Or did… until everything turned upside down this March. However, this aspiring data analyst and software engineer still has big plans. He wants to trouble the world, while yet spreading The Word to those in need. He shares his experience during Youth Month…

A little backstory

His mother never had the opportunity to get educated but her strength and resilience laid great foundations. She was a domestic worker who single-handedly raised her six children. It’s Given’s plan to make his mother proud. He matriculated in 2010 and then started a BSc at UJ. Without adequate finance, he couldn’t complete his degree. After working in the retail industry, he tried again to qualify and registered for a Diploma in Operations Management at Wits Plus. Given joined JumpStart at Monde Primary in 2018. He later joined Daniella Lekgau’s team at the robotics lab at Tamaho Primary School. During lockdown he aligned with the Sekgutlong  Primary School homeschooling project

Online teaching – my greatest challenge 

“It is difficult to do my job right now,” he explained. “Physical presence is paramount at this age and stage of children’s learning. In the classroom, I was in control, so I could set the pace for  learning. Now we must entrust the responsibility of kids’ schoolwork to their parents. But they aren’t trained and are under great pressure themselves. Educating a child demands commitment and consistency, as well as discipline.”

Resources and resourcefulness

Most of Given’s days are productive. Although working from home has its perks, the work never ends. Being available 24/7 to explain things to kids is challenging! He explained the process: “Some days I record an explanatory video to send to the parents’ whatsapp support group. It’s not easy to explain the whys and wherefore, and there’s always, the data issue!”

He continued: “Frequently, parents don’t have enough data to keep the communication going. Parents send a please call because they don’t have air time. I need to be able to dial them back and see how to assist them. We only get 500 MB from JumpStart, but I have used my previous commuting budget to top up my airtime and data. There’s a difference between not having resources and being resourceful yourself. 

“This period has revealed the socio-economic factors behind the scenes. Some children don’t have access to smart phones, so they can’t participate in NumberSense learning. Others go way ahead, which is terrific for them, but I can’t reach or assist those who are stuck. It’s a heartache knowing that there are those who could do so well, but they are deprived of this opportunity to work due to home circumstances.”

Gender based violence

“When a learner shows no progress, we try to find out why. My team hears stories that sound like GBV. When a mother leaves her children to look for refuge, I really worry. Some children go to school to escape their difficulties at home. Where do they go during lockdown? It hurts to hear parents say this, but you can’t do much about it. By the grace of God, we managed to reach many children, and we’ve done our utmost to help. Our JumpStart team leaders and management have been very supportive. I believe teamwork makes the dream work,” said Given.

A typical work day

“My colleagues, Simphiwe Mtshali and Nthabiseng Ngoepe, both have little kids. Toddlers require a lot of attention so I take over everything in the mornings. I call the parents, do follow ups, help learners needing assistance while my other colleagues are balancing things home-side. I’m also helping my nephew with schoolwork. We check in with each other in virtual team meetings every evening. We hear how everyone’s day went, and discuss how best to proceed with problems. It’s vital to keep communication open between us and the team leaders,” he said. Given and his colleagues’ reports and evaluations provide valuable information on how the programme is working. 

Frustrations aplenty

Eskom’s load shedding and power outages crash the networks. It never ends. The signal goes down and good communication with learners is well nigh impossible. Given reports that most parents take their devices to work, so children can’t do any schoolwork during daylight hours. “When the parent returns the children are hungry, the parents are tired. It’s time to start cooking and NumberSense has to wait. This also the time when we call the parents, trying to explain the lesson, attempting to ease the way things for them. However, single parents have to manage their work and their households alone. We try to bridge the gap so that the child doesn’t feel the parent’s stress.”

In Given Msibi’s own words

Amid Covid-19 carnage, 83 days deep into lockdown, we’ve forfeited the comforts of everyday routine, the security of the familiar, and the tranquility of everyday norm. We must now welcome the “new normal”. Living with a pandemic has taught me to appreciate things like walking into a classroom and imparting knowledge to the kids, or sharing a handshake or a hug – the very basics that make us human.

During Youth Month let’s remember that JumpStarters are youth. The youth of this country has proven its resilience in life threatening situations. In 1976 a group of students harnessed the power that live bullets couldn’t stop. We have been passed the baton. Now we must harness the power of hope and resilience. In spite of lockdown, we have managed to keep our program running, we are still champions of education, we are still making a difference. We are still heroes and heroines to those kids.

We shall emerge victorious, for it is victory at all cost, victory in spite of terror, victory however long and hard the road may be. Without victory, there is no survival.
Aluta continua! Victória é certa!
Phambili nge mfumba, phambili.

~ Given Msibi (17 June 2020)

Final thoughts

“We have no doubt that great things are yet to come,” said Programme Director, Jabu Thomo. “Continue the good work, Given. We feel sure that your mother will be delighted beyond words.”

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