“Please ensure that you sanitise your hands, the bottles are on your tables”, “remember social distancing” and “no mask, no opportunity to engage in the experiment”, were the words uttered by a fourth-year Two Oceans Graduate Institute preservice teacher during a lesson. In May and June 2021 during Lockdown Level 2 in South Africa, our TOGI students were afforded the opportunity for the first time since the onset of Covid-19 to complete their Teaching Practice period at schools in a face-to-face setting. As a lecturer, specifically the Intermediate Phase Natural Science and Technology lecturer, I was filled with nervous excitement to visit our IP students at different Primary schools to evaluate their lessons. The Covid-19 pandemic caused many disruptions for preservice teachers to change theory into practice.
“Remember that you are working in groups and all Covid-19 guidelines and protocols should be adhered to”, “being the seniors of the school, I am sure that you would oblige and enjoy the Natural Science and Technology practical lesson” and “safety in science and safety, especially during Covid-19, are extremely important”, were more instructions and reminders given by the preservice TOGI teacher to the learners.
Teachers, students, and learners have experienced many challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic, on personal and academic levels. I was amazed at the approach of the student and her enthusiasm in teaching a practical NST lesson. What was noticeable, was the excitement and co-operation of the learners in the experiential learning process. During this journey I have witnessed first-hand the pandemic challenges. I therefore did not have great expectations about the teaching of hands-on practical NST lessons.
As an educational practitioner, undoubtedly, this period was met with the greatest number of challenges that I’ve seen students face. Despite the “new” norm, the student tried to find a somewhat balance between covid-19 protocols and restrictions and the ability to allow the learners to engage in science hands on activities. The pandemic caused restrictions with stringent protocols. Initially it halted group work, learners could not attend lab practices, practical hands-on activities were not encouraged etc. With these restrictions, in many instances, it negatively affected and impacted on the practical and hands-on NST lessons of the preservice teachers. It was awesome to witness, despite these trying times, a student thinking out of the box and using adaptive skillsets.
I would like to mention that during this, their last period of Teaching Practice, our pioneering students of Togi also continued to demonstrate persistence, patience, and professionalism despite all the challenges. At the eve of their graduation, they deserve to be applauded for making us super proud.