A recent study by the the Economic and Social Research Institute outlined the impact of coronavirus on young people’s lives. It is fundamentally clear that schools are at the heart of the community and are not easily replaceable. They are a keystone in the lives of families and provide a unique shared experience which contributes to a better society.
However, there has been a surge in applications to Tusla, the child and family agency, for homeschooling in Ireland. Just over a month ago The Irish Times reported a backlog of at least 326 homeschooling applications by families waiting to be processed. The number has since increased.
Many of these children are looking to be educated at home because it is a close family member who is in a high-risk group and not the child. This means that once their application for homeschooling has been assessed, and their home has been approved, these children will then lose their place on the school register.
Should another school closure occur, the school is not required to include the child in online classes or to furnish any support materials. It is imperative that our State institutions step up and offer more support to families and school communities who find themselves in this situation.
RTÉ Home School Hub
As the winter flu season approaches, and coronavirus enters its second wave, it is critical that we look to a more solutions-focused interpretation of emergency teaching and learning during the pandemic.
TG4 has continued to support children learning at home. This is a positive step in the right direction but we urgently need more
Given the success of the RTÉ Home School Hub, we have clearly not exploited the potential of the humble TV set enough. Nearly every home has one and connectivity is more assured. Broadband blackspots also are not an issue, hence allowing more people to exploit this convenient medium. Another consideration in favour of the television is the quality of its audio-visual delivery, unlike that of the internet which is often compromised due to heavy user traffic at key times throughout the day and limited bandwidth. However, the focus in education over the last few years has been on the cult of the personal device.
In a recent edition of Leader magazine, published by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, we wrote about device-led learning in the age of coronavirus with the association's vice-president, Michael Cregan.
Both RTÉ and TG4 homeschooling offerings during lockdown highlighted the role of television to provide commendable public service broadcasting. This was a throwback to Telefís Scoile, a series launched in February 1964 to deliver educational programmes to secondary schools in literature, maths and science.
This culture of public education for the benefit of wider society continued into the 1990s. Since the millennium, cheaper reality television has replaced much of these educational offerings. TG4 has continued to support children learning at home. This is a positive step in the right direction but we urgently need more.
Public service broadcasting with a focus on education during a pandemic could be the biggest gift to the nation
There is an appetite, not just among schoolgoers, but also among an emerging "stay at home" multigenerational demographic to consume and avail of lifelong learning opportunities. In addition, there is an immediate need to establish a dedicated education channel to support continuity of studies for students of all levels, ages and abilities, including those preparing for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate exams. This public service broadcasting must also address the needs of students and citizens with special educational learning needs who may need to isolate at home during the pandemic.
In recent days, RTÉ has announced its decision to invest €3 million in digitising archive footage. This has clear educational merit and will be very valuable in terms of social history. Just as we've seen that there is an appetite for dedicated channels such as Oireachtas TV, it would make sense for such materials to be broadcast in a similar manner.
Due to accessibility issues, including poor broadband, the optimal medium available to all is the television. This guarantees equity of access. It is not enough to merely provide these online. It is imperative that such materials are curated in order to provide context and pathways to learning. Digitised resources could be categorised and differentiated according to their relevance to primary and/or post-primary contexts including Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate courses. Their potential as resources for special educational needs learners would be of paramount importance.
Public service broadcasting with a focus on education during a pandemic could be the biggest gift to the nation. Its benefits are tenfold in terms of wellbeing, community solidarity and enriching society. There is potential for this learning to be further supported and enhanced through the development of educational supplements with interactive activities which could be disseminated through national newspapers in the same way as exam supplements.
All of this does not take from online offerings, but merely extends possibilities to access knowledge and learning opportunities. Our collective experiences and engagement with the television during times of crisis can offer solace and a sense of meitheal.
Dr Triona Hourigan is a secondary teacher at Laurel Hill secondary school and Dr Ann Marcus-Quinn is lecturer in technical communication and instructional design at University of Limerick