French PM Castex announces new steps to slow Omicron, but schools to stay open

FRENCH Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Monday that in response to a rapid spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the government was narrowing the delay for a third booster shot to three months from four, but there would be no curfew for New Year’s Eve.

Castex also said France’s health pass for access to restaurants, cinemas and more would become a “vaccine pass” from January 15, if the draft bill is approved by parliament as expected.

This would mean that “in places where the pass is required, you must prove that you are vaccinated to be able to enter – a negative test result will no longer be accepted”, he said.

Among additional measures, from Monday and for the next three weeks, all public gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people for indoor events and to 5,000 people for outdoor events. Spectators at concerts will all have to be seated.

Consumption of drinks and food will be banned in long-distance transport and cinemas, and home working will become mandatory for at least three days per week where possible.Mask-wearing will be mandatory in town centres, with local authorities in charge of enforcing the measure, and in bars and restaurants only seated customers will be able to consume food and drinks.

New rules for isolation periods after a positive Covid-19 test result or for contact cases will be announced at the end of the week. Castex said these were necessary due to the unique “characteristics of Omicron” compared to other variants.

However, there will be no changes to the school calendar. Students will return to school as previously planned, on January 3.

The new measures come as officials have warned that hospitals in France again risk being overwhelmed after a record 100,000 cases were reported Saturday, the highest daily level in France since the pandemic began nearly two years ago.

Figures from Monday show more than 3,300 people are currently in intensive care, above the crisis threshold of 3,000 set by authorities.

The prime minister said the Covid incidence rate – the number of infections per 100,000 people per week – is now well over 700 and at a record level since the start of the pandemic, forcing his cabinet to take the new measures.

While he appealed for people to get booster shots, he also praised France’s 78 percent vaccination rate overall. The government says this figure represents 90 percent of those eligible – currently everyone older than five.

“I know that it feels like a film without ending, but a year ago we started our vaccination campaign and now we are one of the best vaccinated and best protected people in the world,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)


Commission for Gender Equality urges NPA to act on statutory rape of learners

THE Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has called on the National Prosecuting Authority to take swift action against any perpetrators of statutory rape.

This as the Basic Education Department introduced a policy that will compel schools to report the impregnation of learners, younger than 16 years, by older men to the police.

The policy will come into effect in January 2022.

“The Commission has repeatedly called for the law to be applied to curb the growing scourge of statutory rape in South Africa, which has seen thousands of underage girls, some as young as 10 years, drop out of school due to early pregnancy.

“The Commission has confidence that the police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will play their part to ensure that every case of statutory rape is thoroughly investigated and successfully prosecuted,” it said in a statement.

The CGE called on community members to report any inappropriate relationships between children and adults.

“The Commission is also aware that the issue of teenage pregnancy is multi-sectoral and calls all role players and citizenry to be vigilant and report any relationship between an adult and a minor as part of the child protection initiative.”

The commission said with the holiday season upon the country, more vigilance is needed to curb any form of abuse.

“As citizens celebrate the festive holiday season, more women and young girls may fall victim to sexual and gender-based violence. The Commission calls for families and communities to report any incidents of abuse to the nearest police station.”

* SA News


UWC remembers Tutu’s commitment to education

ARCHBISHOP Emeritus Desmond Tutu had a history of teaching in his blood and served as the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) chancellor for 25 years, during South Africa’s turbulent apartheid-era.

Tutu, who was South Africa’s last living Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, became UWC’s chancellor in 1987 and served in that role for 25 years as South Africa formally ushered in the country’s dawn of democracy.

“We are working for a new South Africa and we are committed to non-violence,” UWC reveals he said during his acceptance speech as chancellor.

“The University of the Western Cape is a first fruit, a promise of what that new South Africa could be like. Let us go for it!” Tutu went on to say.

Professor Tyrone Pretorius, UWC rector and vice-chancellor, said: “His service as chancellor for the University of the Western Cape over an unprecedented 25 years, helped to build the foundation of what we are today.”

“We’ve gone from a Bush College to an engaged research-led, learning and teaching university that is ranked among the world’s finest – and we couldn’t have done it without Desmond Tutu’s leadership, and his inspiring example,” Pretorius said.


Motshekga Confirms There Were No Major Incidents To Compromise Exams Despite Minor Hiccups In Limpopo, Free State

WITH just a few hours before the completion of marking of the 2021 matric exams on Wednesday, basic education minister Angie Motshekga has assured the country that the process was going very well despite a few and minor hiccups in Limpopo and the Free State provinces this week.

In an interview with Inside Education on Monday, Motshekga said despite interruptions in Limpopo and the Free State, the marking of matric exams would be  successfully completed on Wednesday – and the capturing of marks would be in progress shortly afterwards.

This after Limpopo Department of Education sent 23 matric exam markers home this week after they tested positive for COVID-19.

At least 13 of them were based at Northern Academy Secondary School marking centre in Polokwane.

In the Free State, markers saved and recovered exam scripts after a storm hit Albert Moroka High School, damaging some of the papers.

The process of marking was underway during the storm, leading to a loss of some documents.

Motshekga said no scripts for Accounting Paper 2 were severely damaged, and all scripts could be accounted for.

“We were initially concerned about the storm in the Free State but we received a report on Monday that assured us all exam scripts were recovered and teachers were able to account for all the papers,” Motshekga told Inside Education on Monday.  

“Between Christmas and New Year, the department will be mopping up and ensuring all papers and year marks are reconciled.”

Motshekga added that while several markers tested positive for COVID-19 in Limpopo Province, the department was consoled by the fact that more than 80% of teachers in South Africa were vaccinated.

The class of 2021 concluded their final matric examinations on 7 December, having started in October.

Motshekga confirmed that the matric exam results would be announced on 20 January 2022, while provinces would then release the results the next day on 21 January.

Last month, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) confirmed that more than 40,000 markers would handle the marking of the NSC exams.

The markers are expected to finish marking by 22 December this year.

The marking is set to be captured on 27 December while Umalusi standardisation is expected to take place by 6 January. 

The education quality assurance council needs to declare that the exams and the marking processes are up to standard in order for the NSC exam results to be released.

Here’s how you can get your matric results

NSC results

To obtain a NSC one must achieve 40% in three subjects, one of which is an official language at Home Language level and 30% in three subjects.

Matriculants can get their official statement of results from the school, exam centre where they wrote their exams or online through the DBE‘s website.

Step 1: Visit the Department of Basic Education website.Step 2: Register using your details.Step 3: Click on the link for 2021 NSC exam results. Step 4: Enter your examination number. Step 5: Your results will appear on the screen. Step 6: Click the download button and print. 

IEB results

Independent Examinations Board (IEB) pupils will see their results go public on 19 January 2022. The IEB sets and marks the final exams for most of the country’s private and independent schools.

IEB results can be obtained in the following ways:

You can obtain your official certificate of results from your school as of 19 January.Pupils will be able to find their results online using the IEB website when they are released. Results can also be accessed via SMS (If the IEB has been provided with your cellphone number, your results will automatically be sent to the number provided or you can register by SMS by sending a message to 35135).

Bursaries are available from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) for any course of study.

Pupils can contact via email or visit their website.

* Inside Education


5 in-demand tech jobs in South Africa – including one with an average salary of R868,000

WITH close to 900,000 matric students having completed their final exams, it is vital for them to start planning for their future. As with any career, students need to bear in mind how likely it is that they will be employed after completing their studies and whether traditional university is the right path for them.

This is according to Riaz Moola, CEO at tech education company HyperionDev, who said that thanks to the rapid digitisation of almost all aspects of our lives, tech-based careers offer the students of today lucrative opportunities for tomorrow.

“Currently there is a skills gap in the technology sector in South Africa, which is reflected in research by PWC which reveals that 87% of local CEOs are most concerned about this shortage.”

As the school year draws to a close, many matriculants are wondering what to study next year. Moola lists his top five tech careers for matriculants to consider pursuing studying for in 2022:

1. Java Developer

Average annual salary according to Payscale: R375,315

A Java developer uses the Java language to create high-functioning web applications, software and programs. Java developers have long enjoyed high-ranking status, rated as the number one job of 2021 by the global recruitment website Glassdoor.

“Java is still one of the most popular programming languages in the world, reflecting both the growing demand for experienced Java programmers and the ubiquity of companies using Java for all kinds of tech applications,” said Moola.

The roles and responsibilities of a Java developer will vary greatly depending on the company and specific position, he said.

Typical responsibilities include: Designing, implementing, and maintaining Java applications that are often high-volume and low-latency, required for mission-critical systems, delivering high availability and performance, contributing in all phases of the development lifecycle, writing well-designed, efficient, and testable code to name but a few.

2. Software Engineer

Average annual salary according to Payscale: R371,699

Software engineers are generalised developers, making all kinds of software to suit a business’s needs. “They have always enjoyed incredible pay, boundless career opportunities and solid job security,” said Moola. “Software engineers are highly agile, thanks to their transferable skills and deep knowledge of one or more programming languages.”

Some of the responsibilities of a software engineer include: analyse user requirements, writing and testing code, refining and rewriting it as necessary, and communicating with any programmers involved in the project.

They will research, design, and write new software programs (e.g. business applications or computer games) and computer operating systems, evaluate the software and systems that make computers and hardware work, and develop existing programs by analysing and identifying areas for modification.

3. Data Scientist / Data Engineer

Average annual salary according to Payscale: from R428,554 to R449,030

“Data is the internet’s new gold rush, which is why companies want to understand their core data and key customer insights to unlock more efficient systems and bigger profits,” said Moola. “Data scientists and data engineers are the answer to that better business.”

There are more similarities than differences between data scientists and data engineers, he points out. “A data scientist uses data analysis tools to manage, analyse, understand and draw conclusions from complex data. Data engineers, on the other hand, are responsible for the setting up, maintenance and management of data systems.

“They don’t just know how to work with data, but also understand the systems and processes that this large-scale analysis requires and how to work with these technologies. These two roles share the number three spot due to their international demand and high job security,” said Moola.

A data scientist’s role combines computer science, statistics, and mathematics. They analyze, process, and model data, then interpret the results to create actionable plans for companies and other organisations.

4. Enterprise Architect

Average annual salary according to Payscale: R867,986

The career of an enterprise architect is one of the best tech jobs in the world because of its combination of staggeringly high pay and huge job opportunities and security, said Moola.

“Enterprise architects typically occupy more senior positions and are responsible for making sure that a company’s business strategy uses the right technology systems to achieve its goals,” he said, adding that this highly technical role makes it a prized career.

An enterprise architect is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of an organisation’s IT networks and services. As an enterprise architect, you would be responsible for overseeing, improving and upgrading enterprise services, software and hardware, Moola said.

5. Full-stack Web Developer

Average annual salary according to SalaryExpert: R730,841

Full-stack developers have officially passed their single-stream counterparts – front-end and back-end developers-  to claim the fifth most desirable tech job in the world. “Full-stack developers work in both front-end and back-end development, building the visuals of websites and applications, as well as the nitty-gritty coding that allows them to work as intended,” said Moola.

“Full-stack developers are highly prized because of this dual specialisation and multi-role capability, making them highly in demand, both locally and internationally.”

A Full-stack Web Developer is responsible for the coding, design and layout of a website according to a company’s specifications. As the role takes into consideration user experience and function, a certain level of both graphic design and computer programming is necessary.

From student to job-ready in a matter of months 

Today, students can take advantage of online coding bootcamps which can be viewed as alternative credentials, said Moola.

“They are a fast-paced career accelerator that can quickly land participants a job as a software engineer or data scientist, rather than a traditional university degree which takes years to complete.

“We believe coding should be accessible to everyone, everywhere,” he said. “That’s why we’ve partnered with financial services institutions so that students can finance their coding bootcamp and start their coding journey as soon as possible.”


Telegram App Used To Teach Student Entrepreneurs

HOMEBOY Mthembu is a jewellery design and manufacturing student at Durban University of Technology’s (DUT) City campus.

When he isn’t juggling his demanding studies, he is working on his jewellery brand, BigHomie and Co, designing attractive pieces for his growing customer base in his rental studio.

He had ambitions of becoming an entrepreneur from a young age. And, preceding his studies, he was a tattoo artist.

“I was a tattoo artist, but it wasn’t a professional thing; I just had the skill,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to build a business. But I never understood the dynamics of building one.”

Fashion design student Diva Mobedi is no stranger to the business world. Her mother, a successful business owner and fashion designer inspired her idea to start a business.

“When I came to DUT I didn’t have a business, but I had an idea,” Mobedi said. “It was after I joined DUT’s entrepreneurship centre that I was groomed to open up a business.”

“I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps. Seeing her as an entrepreneur as well as a single mother inspired me. But the only difference is that she had to learn everything by herself, without any assistance. With me, there was extra help from the university,” Mobedi added.

Today, she is the proud founder of Fashion by Leelah, a modest female fashion brand that specialises in kimono apparel.

Mthembu and Mobedi are two of 50 students selected to participate in the pilot phase of an online entrepreneurship programme offering students a one-of-a-kind, interactive six-module course on the best practices of starting and managing a business.

“Over the course of six modules, students will explore what it means to be an entrepreneur, why entrepreneurship is integral to economic development and how to start and run their own business.

“They will have the opportunity to hear from like-minded entrepreneurial students in South Africa and Ireland who will present some of their insights and findings through each step of the programme,” the Technological Higher Education Network South Africa (THENSA) said in a statement announcing the programme.

The course was developed in partnership with Munster Technological University (MTU) in Ireland, THENSA and the Technology Innovation Agency in South Africa, with DUT as the implementing university through its entrepreneurship centre.

Firstly, the course’s ingenuity lies in the fact that it will be taught and administered on Telegram, a messaging app. Secondly, the approach to the content essentially opens up participants to a technique that encourages start-ups to treat their business ventures as scientific experiments.

Applying science to entrepreneurship

“The task that I was [given] was to contribute an alternative to travelling to Durban and doing a week-long course in a big meeting room,” said Dr Niall O’Leary, who is a research fellow at MTU’s Hincks Centre for Entrepreneurship Excellence.

O’Leary’s role was to assign the content which entailed researching the best approach to the course, writing the course, narrating it on the platform as well as recording videos, among other tasks.

“We wanted to make the course accessible to participants who did not have a laptop and so this led to a view that it should be accessible on mobile and laptop. So our technical lead came up with the idea to use Telegram,” O’Leary said.

His strategy for the content of the course was informed by a 2020 randomised controlled study conducted on 116 early-stage start-ups in Italy, which found that training founders to think and act like scientists could help reduce the risk of sticking with business ideas that would ultimately fail.

“The basic concept of the [study] is that it’s not the ideas that are short. There are lots of entrepreneurship ideas, but the question is how you spend your time and money developing them,” O’Leary said.

“The innovative, scientific approach to assessing business models is about prioritising those finite resources. What we do in the course is that we [ask students to] develop a business model canvas – a succinct business plan.”

He said that, once the participants have completed their business model canvas, they are asked to decide what key factors would influence whether the business would be likely to succeed or not.

This allows start-ups to experiment, discover and learn what could make a business venture a potential hit or miss.

Architecture of the programme on Telegram

Telegram is an instant messaging application that was launched in 2013 and has, from time to time, been regarded as the main rival to the Facebook-owned instant messaging application, WhatsApp.

“Telegram is so flexible; it allows for the integration of any kind of application you can imagine. And, like any application, it allows for a response from a user and you can deliver content to them,” said Willie Cloete, who is the technical lead of the course. “There’s user input and response back to the user.

“Within the context of the course, as soon as the person has registered and subscribed to the course from the THENSA site, they’ll be sent an introductory message that explains a bit about the navigation within the messaging application, Telegram,” he added.

“It can start by asking them a specific question to take them into this journey. That response will go back to the system which runs in the background, process it in a way that they sent and, based on their response, send them the next response,” he continued.

The response could either be content that participants need to study, or it could be a video, text, audio or a document that they need to input responses to in order to get to the next question or module of the course.

All of this happens through the chat function of the application, including the assessments.

“For example, an assessment can be a PDF document. Let’s say we send a PDF document to the user within the chat window. That document could be opened inside Telegram by the user after receiving it.

“They can fill in the different form fields and then send that as a reply back to the application. We will receive that data, working through the PDF automatically, as this is all done by the software.

“[This is] essentially marking, in an automated way, whatever their responses were in the assessment,” Cloete said, explaining how an assessment would be delivered on Telegram.

Students participating in the online programme will receive a recognised certification of participation from THENSA, MTU and the participating university in South Africa.

Teaching students to be job creators

THENSA’s objective following this pilot phase is to roll out the entrepreneurship programme to all first-year students in their partner universities.

“Our aim at THENSA is to ensure that every student who gets into a university takes this programme during their orientation period so that, even before they embark on their careers, they have the necessary skills to become entrepreneurs,” said THENSA CEO Dr Anshu Padayachee.

Padayachee pointed out that, thus far, most universities have been training students to be job seekers and not creators. This programme aims to change that narrative.

The hybrid official launch of the programme was held at DUT on 27 October 2021. This article is part of a media partnership between THENSA and University World News.


New wind farm for the Northern Cape’s renewable energy hub

THE 145MW Enel Green Power RSA (EGP RSA) Garob wind farm in the Northern Cape of South Africa has successfully achieved commercial operation. 

Garob wind farm, located near the remote Northern Cape town of Copperton in the Siyathemba Local Municipality, will generate 573GWh every year.

This could potentially prevent the emission of approximately 600,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.

The facility is situated in the Northern Cape province, an area fast becoming a renewable energy hub in South Africa because of the growing number of solar and wind farms in the region.

This particular project was awarded to Enel Green Power in April 2015 as part of the fourth tender round of South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).

The wind farm is supported by a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with South African energy utility provider, Eskom.

William Price, Country Manager of EGP RSA, said that the facility represents an investment of over €200 million (approximately $225 million) in South Africa.

Construction of Garob wind farm commenced in April 2019.

This work included the on-site building of concrete towers instead of prefabricated steel towers.

Local contractors did the work, with 511 community members on the project at the peak of the construction phase.

Several Creating Shared Value (CSV) initiatives were conducted in underserved communities in close proximity to the wind farm. Some of these include:

Donation of wooden pallets and cable drums to the communities for making furniture;Issuing of PPE to the Health Workers during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic;Provision of 100 blankets to old age homes during winter;Food parcels to 200 vulnerable families at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown;Donating tablets for 135 Grade 11 students;Granting of full scholarships to two learners to further their education at any university within South Africa; andSponsorship of local sport events with 300 young people participating.

Now that the site is operational, EGPRSA will launch Enterprise Development (ED) initiatives such as the Herbal Lean Incubation Programme.

This programme provides mentoring and support services to start-ups in the agri-, bio- and food technology fields.

Additional sustainability projects planned in the Northern Cape province include the installation of an artificial turf football field that captures and stores rainwater; a water purification facility to clean rainwater and address water shortages by providing clean drinking water; and free Wi-Fi to local communities.

* ESIAfrica


New bill proposes language changes and abolishes initiations at schools in South Africa

THE Department of Basic Education has published an explanatory summary of its Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, which will be published for public comment shortly.

The bill introduces several new regulations around schools in South Africa, most notably additional measures to hold principals, parents and governing bodies accountable for non-attendance.

Other proposals relate to language changes, codes of conduct and governing bodies.

The most significant proposed changes are:

Compulsory schooling: The bill states that school attendance will now be compulsory from grade R. Anyone who blocks a child from attending school without just cause – including parents, schools or governing bodies – would be guilty of an offence and face a possible fine and/or imprisonment.Language: The bill will give government department heads more power around the language policies and curriculums that a school must adopt. This head of department may direct a public school to adopt more than one language of instruction, where it is practicable to do so. The bill also recognises South African Sign Language as an official language to learn at a public school.Code of conduct: The bill states that a public school must consider the diverse cultural beliefs, religious observances and medical circumstances of learners at the school. The code of conduct must also include an exemption clause, and disciplinary proceedings must be dealt with in an age-appropriate manner and in the best interests of the learner.Drugs and alcohol: The bill will update the provisions relating to the possession of drugs on school premises or during school activities, and provide for conditions under which liquor may be possessed, sold or consumed on school premises or during school activities.Initiation and corporal punishment: The bill prohibits corporal punishment and initiation practices during school activities and at hostels accommodating school learners.


Teen athletes relieved to return to sport but wary of more pandemic shutdowns

THE last two years have been challenging for most Canadians, but high school athletes have faced a particular set of stressors as the pandemic repeatedly disrupted the school year, closed their fields of play and put their training, mental and physical health and athletic aspirations at risk. 

Since March 2020, teen athletes have juggled new models of classroom learning along with sports shutdowns and, more recently, patchy returns to sport. Seven student athletes share what they’ve been going through as COVID-19 changed life as they know it.

‘Rejuvenated’ on the court: Cheyenne Rowe, Ajax, Ont.

Having gone through quadmesters, virtual school, modified semesters and now a return to traditional ones, Ontario high school senior Cheyenne Rowe discovered an aptitude for learning online during the pandemic.

“I had my own time to study and I didn’t have any of my friends distracting me … I was able to actually focus on my grades,” said the Grade 12 student and self-described introvert from Ajax, Ont. 

Still, the pandemic also sometimes sparked anxiety for Rowe, 17, who plays forward for Markham Prep in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association. A lengthy sports shutdown dominated their Grade 11 year, which is a key showcase year for college basketball recruiters, and led to a dramatic drop in Rowe’s physical activity. 

“Usually, I’m practicing twice a day plus lift or conditioning training, but all of a sudden you just go to doing absolutely nothing, sitting at a desk and staring at a screen all day,” they said. “I walked up and down the stairs just to get some motion in.” Solo training and online sessions with teammates gradually grew into live practices and a moderate return to camps and tournaments. Things have approached normal, despite ongoing restrictions such as limits on fans in the stands, they said.

“When I’m on the court … I don’t have to worry about homework or anything like that,” said Rowe, who’s headed to Virginia’s James Madison University next fall.

“It’s like a wall [around us] and inside that wall is just a beautiful breeze, fresh air. And I was … rejuvenated to be on the court and to be able to move and sweat and get knocked around.”

Wary of more lockdowns: Bruce Murray, Halifax 

Apart from still wearing masks, school doesn’t feel too different this fall, said 16-year-old Bruce Murray, who’s returned to taking four subjects daily this term and training five days a week. 

With just Mondays and Wednesdays free from lengthy afternoon training sessions, “I don’t really have time to catch up on any school work after school [most days],” noted the Grade 11 student gymnast. 

However, what the Halifax teen is most worried about is his performance in the gym, noting that he’s struggled to progress due to multiple lockdown periods over the past 19 months. 

Rushing in too quickly earlier this year led to injuries, so Murray is now taking it slower with his training. Yet he’s also concerned that a fresh round of restrictions could restart another cycle of cancelled competitions — which take months to prepare for — and further roadblocks for developing athletes.

“Gymnastics is already a pretty hard sport to learn because it’s usually not things that your body wants to do,” said Murray. 

“Mixing in not being able to train for a couple of months at a time and just not feeling that comfortable with your co-ordination … then not actually being able to get that much physical help from coaches [because of social distancing], it’s been pretty hard to get used to.”

Excited to get back on the field: Quintyn Rubaine-Andre, Toronto 

After the pandemic messed with his Grade 8 year, Toronto teen Quintyn Rubaine-Andre is turning things around both in class and on the soccer pitch. 

When school went online, he had trouble learning math. Now back in the classroom as a high school freshman, he says he’s quickly catching up on fractions, exponents and multiplying reciprocals. 

“I personally love in-person school. I love seeing people and being able to do projects … talk with the teachers,” said Rubaine-Andre, 14.

Though the defensive midfielder kept up with team training online and solo workouts when soccer was shut down, “it’s one thing to train by yourself. It’s a whole other thing to be in the game, having pressure on you,” said the Grade 9 student, who plays in the Markham FC, part of the Ontario Soccer’s Ontario Player Development League (OPDL).After a 2020 season that was “training only” due to ongoing restrictions, Rubaine-Andre has been thrilled with the OPDL’s nearly normal return this year — although he really misses travelling to other parts of Canada and the U.S. for matches.

“At the end of the season, there is usually a trial to be on Team Ontario,” he explained. “I’m really excited to get back on the field … because I really want to show them how good I am.”

Just happy to be back: Amelia Hawkes, Edmonton

Being back in class this term has meant a bigger workload, but 15-year-old Amelia Hawkes has taken it in stride after last year’s pivoting between online and in-person schooling. 

“I persevered: came up with solutions to make sure I can get what I need to get done … strategies and self-advocacy have helped me manage it,” said Hawkes, who plays ringette east of Edmonton with Sherwood Park Power AA and lacrosse with multiple squads: the Sherwood Park Titans, North Strong, Team Alberta and her school, Vimy Ridge Academy. 

Juggling school with practices that span 90 minutes three times a week and four to eight hours on weekends, “the biggest challenges for me have been finding time to do it all, scheduling [and] making sure I give myself a break so I don’t work myself into exhaustion,” explained Hawkes, who’s in Grade 10. The return to the playing field has taken some getting used to: the Edmonton student has navigated through temporary lockdown periods as well as things like cohorting limits — tricky for a player on several teams. Masks now stay on “pretty much until we put our helmets on” and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test have become routine for practices and tournaments.

“It’s tough to keep up with all the changes that keep being made, but for the most part it’s gone smoothly. I’m just happy to be back playing,” said the teen.

A mental toll: Ellie Lancaster, Halifax

Active with multiple squads, including the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Academy in Nova Scotia and a Canada Summer Games team, Ellie Lancaster is a seasoned pro at juggling school and soccer. 

“Because I started the high-level training at a young age, I’ve gotten used to managing my time, and managing school and soccer, and balancing everything,” said the 16-year-old Halifax goalkeeper.

However, amid COVID-19, the Grade 11 student faced difficult new challenges: virtual school, quadmesters with long classes and a tough stretch of no soccer, followed by an achingly slow, cohorted return. Losing soccer, which Lancaster calls a major motivator and her “happy place,” took a mental toll and made dealing with school even harder.

“It affected me a lot more than I thought. I feel like most parents don’t realize … how much we were affected, like our mental health and everything,” she noted. 

She’s felt a big improvement, however, with this fall’s return to in-person classes, a regular semester plus nearly-normal practices and games. “It’s my outlet from stresses in life … The thought of not being able to play soccer again for a long period of time really scared me.”

A ‘weird mindset’: Edson Cheng, Toronto

Shifting from hybrid attendance and quadmesters last year to modified semesters this year has kept Edson Cheng off kilter at school.

The Grade 10 student is now working with a tutor to help raise his marks and keep him on his dream path to post-secondary education. Losing sports — he plays basketball and volleyball — for much of last year didn’t help either.

The 15-year-old says playing competitive sports helps him channel any feelings of anxiety, insecurity, anger and frustration.

“I can just let it go …  If I was angry, stressed from school, I just play volleyball [and] my whole mentality just switches,”  explained Cheng, who plays middle blocker on his school team at Toronto’s York Mills Collegiate Institute and with Reach Volleyball Club.  

When sports were on hold, Cheng stayed active playing basketball at home and with solo workouts. Even still, he admits he was in “a weird mindset” during that time and felt anxious about when organized athletics would actually return. 

“When the school year [started] and I heard all the sports would come back, I felt super happy.”

Games look different: Jordon Heppner, Steinbach, Man.

School is much easier now that it’s in-person again, said Grade 12 student Jordan Keppner, from Steinbach, Man. 

Online classes “tested your self-motivation at home, always having to wake up and go straight to your Chromebook and look at a screen for six hours,” explained the 17-year-old Steinbach Regional Secondary student athlete.

The teen volleyball player is also back to balancing academics and athletics, playing both for his school’s senior squad as well as the University of Manitoba’s Junior Bisons, the club he’s been with for three years. 

The games look different. Masks stay on for practices and when leaving the court during matches, for instance, and officials nixed switching sides between sets as well as handshakes with opponents. Still, Heppner says he’s good with whatever puts him back on the court.

Losing volleyball early in the pandemic “was really hard for me because my life is literally volleyball and sports,” said the teen, who plays middle blocker or left-side hitter.

Keeping his grades up for university — Heppner’s headed to the University of Manitoba — is also easier with volleyball in the picture. “If [volleyball is] part of my day, it just makes my day a whole lot better … That always makes me happy.”



Classroom Corner| Saambr shares activity sheets to keep your child entertained these holidays

THE South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr) has shared fun, child-friendly resources to keep little ones entertained and engaged this festive period.

Parents can enjoy bonding time with their children by pouring over educational fact sheets written in English and isiZulu.

With information on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the whole family can learn about fascinating marine life off the South African coastline. 

Saambr also shared educational activity sheets that are sure to keep children smiling on rainy days at home. Children will learn plenty of fun facts with the activity sheets on Cyril the coelcanth and Tasmyn the turtle or Rupert the red steenbass.

There is even an activity sheet for Henry the Hermit crab goes house hunting, which is packed with fun facts about what makes hermit crabs arthropods and why ‘Henry outgrew his shell and had no more wiggle room left’.

“Did you know that many of the resources that we have produced are also available in isiZulu? Our wonderful education team have helped us to translate our Marine Protected Areas fact sheets and Ocean Stories for Children,” said Saambr.

All Saambr resources are available on its website, www.saambr.org.za. Click here to access the Marine Protected Areas fact sheets in isiZulu. Parents can click here, to find activity sheets for children in isiZulu and English.