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Water-safety instructors are excited to be back in classrooms and have managed to reach an impressive number of students, even with social-distancing regulations. But they’ve also had to adapt to a very different teaching environment, explains Drowning Prevention manager Andrew Ingram.It was mid-August, with the relaxing of lockdown to Level 2, that our first water-safety instructors managed to start getting back into schools to teach. As restrictions were lifted, people started moving again and it was not long before the fatal drowning incidents also started to increase.During lockdown Level 5 and 4 there were remarkably few drowning incidents around the country. It was a welcome respite from fatal drowning, recognised as one of the five major causes of accidental death in South Africa.The challenge of getting back into the classroomOur 21 water-safety instructors have all have very different experiences as schools battle to get to grips with their new normal. Those who work in rural settings found it much easier to get back into classrooms while their colleagues in cities found it challenging. The two recurring responses were: “Sorry, but we can’t allow outsiders into our school,” and, “We are so far behind with the curriculum that we just don’t have time.” Both are very valid reasons in these strange times.The new normal for water-safety educationDespite the challenges, our team has reached just over 3 000 children in the last month and a half. This is quite an achievement considering the tiny classes that instructors now teach because of social distancing. The contacts that our team made with media houses are still in place and our new friends in local newspapers and radio stations, who loved our water- safety content during lockdown, are still using our messages. This combination of face-to-face teaching and teaching water safety through the media will be our new normal for the foreseeable future.How classes are different nowOur instructors have all been extensively educated on safety during the time of Covid-19. From how to safely perform and teach hands-on CPR through to keeping themselves and the students safe on public transport, in schools and during lessons. The instructors also report that mask-wearing children are far more subdued than they were pre-Covid-19. Desks that held three children now have only one. And getting lesson participation from the children is just a bit more difficult.“Learners are still trying to adapt to this new way of learning. They are not allowed to sit close to their best friend, no touching, no hugs from a teacher, no high-fives, no helping with our equipment,” explains National Water Safety team leader Eoudia Erasmus.“With less interaction and with children who are more reserved with their masks on, it is sometimes hard to gauge their expressions. But the children are still excited about our lessons and although we cannot see their expressions behind their masks, we are able to see their eyes and their reactions through their body language. We are different now. But the water-safety lessons and our messages are still the same!”Each school and even each class seems to have their own different levels of strictness regarding the Covid-19 protocols. Instructors arrive at their schools fully equipped and ready for anything.“The children seem relieved to see a new face and a programme that appears to be a lot more interactive than what they are currently experiencing in classrooms,” says KZN and Eastern Cape team leader Val Barlow.“It requires a lot more enthusiasm and effort to rev up the engagement and excitement levels from the children; we need to constantly think on our toes, and assess the lesson direction minute by minute,” she says.Phelelani Nene, one of the two instructors in Richards Bay sponsored by South32, taught at the Unizulu Science Centre pre-Covid-19. But despite the move down to Level 1, the Science Centre is still shut to schools. According to Derek Fish, Director at the Science Centre, they don’t anticipate children visiting the centre again this year. Schools have told them that children will not be leaving their premises for excursions. So Phelelani, like his colleagues, has had to adapt. Instead of meeting learners at the Science Centre during their excursion, he now visits much smaller groups in the relative safety of their classroom.As Eoudia points out, the overarching theme is still one of safety: “Whether it’s the coronavirus or water dangers – always stay safe!”How you can helpSea Rescue’s Water Safety Programme relies on funding to teach hundreds of thousands of South Africans lifesaving skills each year via a network of water-safety instructors across the country. It costs R10 per person per lesson, so by donating even a small amount, you could help save someone’s life.Find out how you can donate today.
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