—By Emer O’Shea
Areas in which the Government has failed include the childcare fiasco, the annihilation of the Leaving Cert exams, and the failure to reopen schools.
From the outset, it has been acknowledged that the Government dealt with the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown in an admirable and efficient manner. However, there are areas where it has not fared well, including the childcare fiasco; the annihilation of the Leaving Cert; the non-reopening of schools.
Reopening of Schools
Over the past few weeks, Dr David Nabarro, the WHO Special Envoy on Covid-19, medical and scientific experts including Prof Sam McConkey, RCSI and Prof Luke O’Neill, TCD, GPs, and the National Parents Council representatives have called on the Government to reopen schools on a phased, trial basis in June, citing the long-term adverse impact on the mental and physical health, well-being and development of children, particularly those in lower-income families.
Further, it would provide the requisite data on the potential infection rates arising from a return to school here. Importantly, following their schools’ reopening, 17 of 20 EU countries have had very few cases of Coronavirus – with schools in Denmark being the first to reopen from mid-April. Balancing the risks is paramount.
The Department of Education is only now designing a roadmap for reopening schools in September, due to be published in mid-June. Why was this not in place in late March/early April in an attempt to reopen schools in May/June?
The Minister will not accept a ‘half-return’, with pupils attending school for part of the week. Why not? Undoubtedly, a school day divided into two stints (8.30-11.30am; 12-3pm) with alternate halves of the class present for each period, proffers a better alternative to no school at all, both for the children and, in the absence of childcare, their working parents.
According to the INTO, ‘Many of our classrooms have more than 30 pupils, with …’ an EU average of just 20. In reality, the average class size here is 25.
What is the roadmap for the September 2020 term?
No teacher has been trained to deliver remote teaching as a means of education. Why not, in this day and age of technology?
Will training in online teaching be ‘mandatory’ for the sector during the long summer holidays?
What is the plan for next winter in the event of a ‘flu outbreak, potentially leading to another wave of Coronavirus?
Will the schools close again for an indefinite period?
Will remote teaching be more agile than currently?
Will the Leaving Cert exams 2020 be deferred until 2025 perhaps?
‘Postponing’ the Leaving Cert exams was a political, not a health decision. Dr Tony Holohan stated he had no direct input into it. Indeed, in an analysis of global research a fortnight ago, HIQA found that under 25-year-olds are not Covid-19 ‘super spreaders’.
Additionally, both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [ECDPC] advise that one-metre social distancing may suffice, contrary to our National Public Health Emergency Team’s (NPHET’s)/Government’s stipulation of two metres.
Data-rich research two weeks ago, from US investment bank, JP Morgan, shows that ending lockdowns has no real negative impact on Covid-19 infection rates.
Evidence from this study, the WHO and ECDPC, has immense ramifications not only for education/reopening schools/Leaving Cert exams but also for myriad industries that have been or will be devastated if disproportionate lockdown and social distancing are continued.
Diverging patterns of private and public sectors
Interestingly, a pattern has emerged whereby IBEC/SFA/ISME members and businesses in the private sector are extremely eager to reopen, in an endeavour to combat protracted loss of earnings/income. Conversely, those in the public sector who are on full pay throughout the lockdown are not under the same financial pressure to ‘move mountains’ to return to office or classroom.
Under a major acceleration, retail/businesses, libraries, outdoor summer camps, supervised playgrounds are re-opening today, Monday 8 June, with hotels, B&Bs, caravan parks, museums, galleries following at the end of June. If the aviation and construction industries and bars/cafes/restaurants, workplaces, etc, can work around Covid-19 parameters, so too can the Minister for Education and teachers, with a ‘can-do’ instead of ‘cannot-do’ approach.
The problem is that were schools to reopen on a phased, trial basis this month, it would prove nigh impossible to justify the decision that up to 3 optional, shortened Leaving Cert exams (blended with Calculated Grades), could not take place on 29th July, or indeed this month.
Remaining with the imprudent decision to obliterate the State exams in their entirety, for the foreseeable future, appears to present the lesser of two evils. A shameful indictment of the powers that be?