Cabinet agreed this week to a range of tighter public health measures including the closure of schools nationwide and a return to online and remote learning.
The cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19, who met on Wednesday, have agreed to Leaving Certificate students being allowed to attend school three days a week. New school restrictions will be in effect from Monday, January 11 until January 31.
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE
Principal of Blackwater Community School, Lismore Denis Ring, said that the school are awaiting guidelines from the Department of Health on how to proceed, however, he is confident that the school will cope well, returning to remote learning for the time being.
“A lot of work has been put into developing online learning skills in the last few months, we devoted a lot of planning time to looking ahead in the event of this happening again. Students have upskilled with the form of blended learning and it worked quite well for us last time. Parents were particularly diligent then and willing to work with us, while teachers have gone to tremendous lengths, I couldn’t praise them highly enough.”
“It’s challenging, there’s no doubt about that but we’re well-positioned to take on the challenge, while acknowledging that face to face is always the best practice,” he told The Avondhu.
Veronica O’Donoghue, principal of St Colman’s Secondary School in Fermoy, said that she believes the closure may be the best thing to do for now, in the interests of health and safety. She confirmed that during the closure, they will be operating remotely via Microsoft Teams.
“We have been doing blended learning since September and we’re confident that it’s going to work well. We’re always conscious of the academic side but we’re also conscious of the health and safety of our staff and students, which is paramount,” Ms O’Donoghue said.
LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING BACK
Christy Healy, principal of Coláiste an Chraoibhín, Fermoy, however, said he believes teachers would prefer to be in school.
“Teachers would actually prefer to be in school with their pupils. That’s what teachers want here because remote learning is not the same thing. Teachers themselves are very isolated at home as well and miss their colleagues and being in the classroom with students,” he said.
Mr Healy told The Avondhu that when teachers returned to school after the last school lockdown, they were relieved to be back.
“We were concerned before Christmas and we will be able to work remotely again using Teams, but it was very difficult for everybody last time and teachers will be looking forward to getting back as soon as possible,” Mr Healy added.
According to Mr Healy, pupils in Coláiste an Chraoibhín were extremely complaint with Covid-19 guidelines and restrictions put in place, especially so while in school
“To be fair to the youngsters, they were brilliant for wearing their masks, and washing their hands and sanitizing. No pupil came into school without a mask at any stage,” he said.
One Mitchelstown Leaving Certificate student, however, is not looking forward to returning to remote learning, following this week’s restriction allowing attendance for only three days a week.
Sarah Walsh (18) said that while she is more ‘at ease’ with a return to remote learning now, having done so previously, but says she would much rather be in class.
“I’ll be sickened if schools stay closed. I’m not someone who can learn by the book, I need to be able to be there. For me personally, I’m someone who needs help and I need to be able to call the teacher down, and if you’re finding things hard, you don’t want to tell the whole class,” Sarah said.
Having participated in remote learning previously, Sarah highlighted the stress and pressure students are put under while not having valuable in-class and face-to-face time with teachers.
“It’s not the teachers’ fault but online learning is pointless. I did what I was supposed to do and I did all the homework but I couldn’t learn from it. There was a serious overload with some classes.
“Some teachers were giving us loads of work to keep us going and keep us busy,” Sarah added.
With Leaving Certificate exams approaching, many students are speaking out about the stresses they are under, such as Caillum Hedder, a student of John the Baptist Community School in Hospital, who is seeking clarity for students who are now facing a number of challenges and barriers regarding their education.
‘FEEL SO UNPREPARED’
For Caillum, a lack of communication between government and students is a key issue, as he recently appealed to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, to sit down and speak directly with students to get their views and give clarity on the situation.
According to Sarah Walsh, secondary school student’s haven’t received any new supports to face the challenges posed to them by Covid-19, despite lacking support structures they would normally have in a non-Covid world.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten any extra help this year, it just feels like any other year,” she said.
Despite claiming she has yet to see extra supports put in place for second-level students, she notes that workloads have increased as current and previous lockdowns have led to unfinished coursework, combined with the pressure of preparations for the Leaving Certificate.
“I feel so unprepared. I feel I should have another year in school because it feels like I haven’t finished fifth year yet,” she told The Avondhu.
‘BETTER TIMES WILL COME’
Local councillor Frank O’Flynn said that he is glad that accommodation was made for Leaving Cert students this week.
“Their whole life is ahead of them and they’ve already suffered greatly. They’ve enough stress. If they can be accommodated safely, they should be.”
“There is hope there and better times will come. With the vaccine here, I hope the rollout will be fast and we can put all this behind us,” he said.