Teachers believe remote learning has led some students to disengage

Extra supports will be needed next year to assist vulnerable students, survey finds

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More than 90 per cent of secondary school teachers say some students have disengaged as a result of the move to remote teaching and learning, according to a new survey.

The findings are contained in a poll of more than 1,000 Teachers’ Union of Ireland members, which was carried out last month.

The survey indicates the vast majority of teachers (76 per cent) believe remote learning had a disproportionately negative effect on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while a similar proportion believe additional supports are needed for 2021-2022 to assist those students who have lost out most.

On a more positive note, most teachers (75 per cent) say student engagement with remote learning was better in 2021 than in 2020.

Most also agree that preparation, provision and associated work involved in providing classes remotely took much more time than face-to-face delivery.

The long-standing issue of pay discrimination has also emerged as a concern given that recession-era pay cuts have not yet been fully restored. A significant proportion (29 per cent) said they did not believe they would be in the profession in 10 years’ time.

However, if pay discrimination were to be fully resolved, 74 per cent believed they would still be in the profession in a decade.

TUI president Martin Marjoram said that although progress had been made in tackling pay inequality, there was still an €80,000 loss in career earnings, with the largest differences in salary in the early years of employment.

Digital divide

Separately, the gulf in access among pupils to digital devices will be a key issue of debate at the annual congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.

The union’s president, Mary Magner, will warn delegates on Tuesday that Irish primary schools are lagging behind our EU neighbours in investing in digital technology to support teaching and learning.

She will highlight countries including Austria, Switzerland and Norway, where about 95 per cent of students have a personal laptop to use for their homework.

“Too many times during this crisis when our schools were forced to close, did it become apparent that too many families did not have adequate access to digital technology in their homes,” she will tell delegates.

“As we look forward to the rollout of the renewed curriculum later in this decade, the digital agenda must be at the heart of 21st-century Irish primary education.”

Minister for Education Norma Foley has announced the development of a new €200 million digital strategy for schools between now and 2027.

It aims to embed digital technology in teaching, learning and assessment and will take into account the “challenges that have arisen” in recent times.

She has asked anyone with an interest in the area to take part in a new consultation process to help build a “robust and exciting” strategy.

Although access to the Covid-19 vaccine is expected to dominate the annual conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), there will be a focus on debates about the Leaving Cert as well as on other issues that could have significant industrial relations implications such as pensions and pay for student teachers.

The highest priority motion for the ASTI conference calls for depth of treatment and range of subject knowledge to be included in the design template of all future Leaving Certificate specifications, including those currently under development.

The ASTI will also hear calls for a return to the pre-2004 public service pension scheme for all teachers, which would include the right to retire at 60.

Third-level funding

Separately, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris is expected to tell TUI delegates that the issue of the future funding of further and third-level education will be dealt with by the current administration.

He will say that, while investment levels have increased, “it is not where it needs to be”.

He is expected to tell delegates the Government will act on the findings of a new report on future funding in the next few months.

It is understood he will tell teachers he wants to see a number of rapid Covid-19 testing pilots across the third-level sector as another weapon in the armoury to allow for greater on-site attendance in the next academic year.

He is also expected to give a commitment to a programme of investment in new technological universities, including expansion of campuses in Waterford.

It is understood he recently received a report from the Higher Education Authority regarding the merger of Athlone IT and Limerick IT, which will be considered in the days ahead.

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