English-language teachers are set to join students on Monday at a protest in Dublin to raise concerns about the safety of reopening language schools when Covid-19 case numbers are on the rise.
The Unite English Language Teacher’s Branch has called a protest against the reopening on Monday at 12.30pm at the Spire on O’Connell Street, from where participants will march to the Department of Further and Higher Education on Marlborough Street.
Under the current Government roadmap for the reopening of society, these schools are permitted to resume in-person activity from July 19th, where it is safe to do so.
Last week, the Department of Higher Education advised schools to take account of a number of factors, including a deteriorating public health situation and consultation with staff and students, before re-opening.
“The resumption of in-person activity is a key stepping stone on the pathway to recovery for the ELE [English Language Education] sector in Ireland. The department looks forward to continued productive engagement with stakeholders to support the development of further plans which will enable the return of international student recruitment and the full re-opening of the sector in due course,” the Department of Higher Education said in a statement.
It said the resumption was “ exclusively to cater for the needs of the existing cohort of ELE students currently in the State and providers may opt to remain closed, to provide blended learning or to continue operating wholly online.”
However, students and teachers, many of whom remain unvaccinated, have raised concerns around the Delta variant.
David Russell, head of the Progressive College Network (PCN) which represents some 5,000 English-language students in Ireland, warned the sector was being opened up too early and that doing so was putting the lives of teachers and students at risk.
A survey carried out among all PCN teachers found just two out of 28 were vaccinated, while only 15 per cent of the 170 students surveyed were fully vaccinated, he said.
“I think the whole thing hasn’t been thought out properly,” he told The Irish Times. “Safety is our primary concern here. These students are studying but they’re also working in hospitality, in care homes and in hospitals and unfortunately some are living in overcrowded conditions. ”
Mr Russell also warned that a small number of schools were putting their students under pressure to resume face-to-face classes or risk losing their visa. “The correspondence from the department of further education was clear that schools were being given an option to re-open, not for schools to start heavy-handedly threatening students to come back. Safety has to be the primary concern and getting students back into the classroom right now is far from safe.”