The coronavirus and the ticking of my 2020 clock

A matriculant shares his experience of trying to cope with the challenges that Covid-19 created while he studied for what he hopes will be his final year behind a school desk.

This year was very challenging for me as I tried to handle the pressure of being in matric while Covid-19 killed so many people. With the challenges we faced, this year showed us who the real important people in society are. I saw that teachers are among the most important people in our lives – they took good care of us during this pandemic.

As we know, learners sometimes forget to do several things. The teachers were there, always reminding us to wear masks, frequently wash our hands and practise social distancing at all times. This made me realise that teachers are our second parents. They were coming to our class every day, praying for us to be safe, trying to make us feel comfortable and reminding us to sanitise.

We had a lot of work in a short period of time, and that made me afraid that I might have to repeat the grade. But because of the support from my teachers, parents and family members, I believe that I can pass and move a step closer to realising my dream.

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After matric, I want to study to become a teacher. It has always been my dream, but this year strengthened it when I saw how important it is to have good teachers. I spent a lot of time at school this year. I had to remain at school after it closed for two to three hours to study and went home at around 6pm. I slept at around 11pm, having tried to cover the work that they gave us and prepare for the following day. Even though I went to sleep late, I had to wake up early the next day because I wanted to cover as much of the work in our syllabus as I could. 

The closure of the schools – for almost three months – because of the lockdown had a negative impact on our studies. I had to stay at home and study alone, trying to cover the work. There was no time to watch television or socialise. I chose not to be part of any study group because I have a family member with high blood pressure, and I was scared of going out, getting Covid-19 and then bringing it to them. 

That meant it was even harder for me to study because I struggled to make sense of things that we hadn’t learnt in class. My grandmother used to give me some money so that I could buy data to watch video lessons on YouTube.

Working harder

I told myself that nothing is impossible. I realised that spending time studying and keeping my mind positive would work for me. My parents also reminded me that they are struggling for me to be educated. They told me that they are saving money for me to get a tertiary education. That made me work even harder, sleeping only five hours a night in order to cover the work that I had to do so that I can pass and realise my dream of being a teacher.

Every time when I came across challenges, I would call my peers to find solutions. I learned that if you want to achieve anything, you must do one thing at a time.

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When only the grade 12s and grade 7s were allowed back at school, my classmates and I saw this as an advantage because there was no noise from the other grades. Teachers were teaching as fast as they could and giving us time to ask questions. Around July, we wrote tests that were classified as being for “excellent schools”, “potential schools” and “high-risk schools”. Our school was identified as a “potential school”. We managed to attain position one in our Maune circuit in Limpopo and position four in the Capricorn district. That’s when I saw that we can do well in the final exams. 

I am confident that I will pass, even though the final examinations were hard. The first life sciences paper was the hardest for me, but I believe that I did well enough to pass. My last exam was on 9 December, and it was a great relief when I stepped out of class for the last time after writing my third English paper. Preparing for these exams has taken a lot out of me. Even my friends knew that by 5.30pm I had to be home to start with my studies.  

Even though this year has been hard, it has come with some valuable life lessons. Somebody once said that matric is the start of your journey, not the end of one. It’s the start of the rest of our lives. What we must understand in that journey is that we will not reach our destinations at the same time, but that doesn’t mean failure. 

I know people who graduated from university when they were 21 but didn’t get a job until they were 27 years old. A degree at 25 is still an achievement. My point is, everything in life happens according to your clock, not what society says. Covid-19 has made this year hard, and it has also made me appreciate the small things and want to contribute to making the world a better place, like our teachers did. 

Benedict Matsaung is a 19-year-old matriculant at Mmatshipi Senior Secondary School in Ga-Mashashane, a rural village in Limpopo. He is a member of Equal Education.

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