COVID-19 has posed many challenges for working mothers the past year and a half, and the closure of schools has meant that many women have had to start managing their work-life balance in new, unexpected ways. The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) sat down with Optimi Home MD, Louise Schoonwinkel (CA(SA)), to discuss how the pandemic has affected education, what the future of education looks like, and the measures she took to protect her staff during these uncertain times.
COVID-19 and education
As Managing Director of Optimi Home (part of the Optimi Group owned by PSG), Schoonwinkel (38) knows that as a provider of alternative methods of education, her team makes an impact on children’s lives not only in South Africa but also abroad.
“Our mission is to bring accessible learning solutions to all. We provide homeschooling, online schooling, and supplementary learning solutions for parents and tutors. We bring quality, accessible private education to the market at affordable prices”. Schoonwinkel enjoys not only interacting daily with a dynamic group of colleagues who challenge each other, but also being involved in both the strategic and operational sides of the business.
She explains that the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified existing gaps in South Africa’s education system (unfortunately, mostly linked to those who can and cannot afford to pay for education). “It has also sped up our market’s readiness to adopt online learning and has, therefore, opened opportunities to bring quality education to the bigger market. We tend to make conservative choices when it comes to our children’s education, and COVID-19 has forced society to push the boundaries [of education] and be more open to alternative [types] of education”.
The future of education
For Schoonwinkel, the future of education will be one wherein parents can match their children’s individual learning needs to various options in the market. “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach here. The beauty of online learning is that it makes quality education much more affordable”.
Schoonwinkel adds that the future holds endless possibilities where online education tuition and in-person teaching can be linked to ensure they bring the best possible solution to all children in South Africa. “Imagine a world where a school [with limited] resources can stream lessons from the best teachers in the country to enrich learning and all learners write standardised online examinations. With regards to tertiary studies, our world has already changed significantly over the past 10 years; students can now obtain degrees from global universities without leaving their homes”.
A new way of teaching
Schoonwinkel feels online learning tools are becoming an integral part of learning. “I believe that there will always be a place for face-to-face interaction in the classroom, supplemented by online tools. It took a global pandemic to change the way we learn, which was established more than 100 years ago during the Industrial Revolution”.
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Optimi Home adapts for the future
Even so, the pandemic did pose certain personal and work-related challenges. “Hard lockdown posed a massive challenge at home and trying to balance work, homeschooling, and household tasks. During this time, I learned that no matter how much you think you [can] embrace change, we all get change-fatigue. I also realised how much I value face-to-face interaction with people and how much it energises me. I now know where the mop is kept and how much more advanced Maths is than when I [was in] Grade 1”.
“On the work front, I am proud that we debunked myths around working from home. We sent all our staff (except our warehouse staff) home and closed our office in March 2020. We have now successfully implemented a hybrid working model where employees at all levels, including our call centre staff, choose the number of days per week they would like to spend in the office (if any)”.
From a business perspective, Schoonwinkel and her team had to adapt offerings, systems and processes continuously throughout 2020 as things keep evolving.
This article was first published in the August 2021 issue of Accountancy South Africa.