The Irish Times view on disruption to education: Keep calm and stay focused

Many students and parents crave much greater levels of clarity and support around exams and schooling

The best advice for students - especially those in exam years - is to stay calm, keep focused and assume that a normality of sorts will resume in time. Photograph: iStock

The best advice for students - especially those in exam years - is to stay calm, keep focused and assume that a normality of sorts will resume in time. Photograph: iStock

 

Like so much else during the coronavirus crisis, our education system is in uncharted waters. Parents and teachers have no firm of idea of when schools will reopen. Junior and Leaving Cert students do not know if they will have exams during the summer.

Third-level institutions are grappling with remote teaching and online assessments. It is little surprise that so many parents, students and educators feel anxious and concerned over the impact this uncertainty will have on pupils’ education and future prospects. Many crave much greater levels of clarity and support.

The Minister for Education’s announcement this week that Junior and Leaving Cert oral and practical performance tests have been cancelled is a good first step. Many will debate whether the decision to give students full marks for these components is the right approach and if it undermines the integrity of the exams. However, against a backdrop of a public health emergency which is set to get worse before its gets better, there are no good options.

At the very least, it gives students some much-needed certainty. Whatever solution is found to the summer exams, it is essential all students are treated fairly and no one is disadvantaged in any way.

It is also vital to minimise the impact of school closures on teaching and learning for children. The Department of Education says all schools have been asked to continue lesson plans and, where possible, provide online lessons for students. While some schools or individual teachers are well equipped to provide learning support online, many others are not.

Even if these supports existed, in many parts of the country broadband access is either poor or non-existent. Unless creative solutions – such as equipping teachers to teach remotely from their schools – are found, there is a real risk of a digital divide opening up between students.

The impact on third-level, too, is still being quantified. At a time when so many institutions are heavily reliant on international students as a vital source of income, many will face a financial black-hole. To their credit, many have responded quickly to provide lectures online and replace exams with online assessments.

There is no doubting the daunting scale of the challenge facing the State in confronting the coronavirus crisis. It is only right that we take whatever measures are necessary to protect our most vulnerable.

Amid the disruption, children are continuing to learn, albeit in new and different ways. In time, the crisis will pass. The schools will reopen. Exams will take place. In the meantime, perhaps the best advice for students – especially those in exam years – is to stay calm, keep focused and assume that a normality of sorts will resume in time.