Covid-19 and reopening schools
Sir, –I read with some interest, but no sense of recognition, the description of the planning process for reopening schools in the autumn by Jennifer O’Connell in “If hairdressers ran our schools every child would be going back in September” (Opinion & Analysis, July 4th). I will confine my remarks to the area that I have direct knowledge of, which is primary education.
I am confident of a full and safe return to school (bar a surge in Covid-19 cases between now and the autumn) mainly because I have confidence in the dedication, commitment and professionalism of the people who teach in, lead, and manage our primary schools to deliver a full and safe return to school, provided they are given, clear timely guidance, and the necessary resources to do so.
Despite the fact that Ireland now spends less per pupil than the US, the UK, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Norway, Irish 10-year-olds recently outscored all their peers in the EU and the OECD in literacy. There were just three countries were ahead of us in the global rankings.
These results attest to the high quality and the deep commitment of our primary teachers and principals.
For weeks now, the Department of Education has been engaged with the education partners in planning for a return to school in the autumn.
To support this process the management bodies, Irish Primary Principals’ Network and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation formed a working group to support the department and to ensure that advice and guidance are given to schools in a coordinated way.
The publication of the interim health advice for school reopening has provided both Departmental officials and principals on the ground with a much clearer picture of what is needed to reopen schools safely.
The advice is interim, and I remain hopeful that if the situation continues to improve in Ireland, and and analysis of the experience of school reopening in other jurisdictions warrants it, that the advice may change in a positive way.
Delivering a full and safe return for primary schools will be complex, challenging and costly – but it is doable – and will be delivered if Government provides the needed resources.
I would like to thank all of these working in primary education, particularly principals, for their hard work and commitment over the last few weeks and months. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I’d like to share the sheer frustration and undeniable stress that the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of schools in September is causing to mothers around the country.
The idea of children returning to schools on a part-time basis at best is unwelcome for a large number of us and it’s creating substantial fear among women.
Of course we are concerned about our children’s education, learning new concepts, acquiring new skills and the development of their social skills.
We also need to be able to establish routines for our children and to provide as much stability as possible.
However, our main fear is reaching a point where we have to choose to put our careers on hold, to lose our sanity and our freedom in order to provide an acceptable level of education and stability for our children. We fear that everything our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers achieved for us will be lost and that the role of the woman in the family will return to that of the stay-at-home wife.
We deserve more, and our daughters and granddaughters deserve far more. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As a parent of a junior infant, I was disappointed that it was okay for pubs and most of the Irish economy to open in June but not our schools, and feel it is essential that there is a full school reopening in September.
By that time, we will have had six months of virtually no education or school activity, which has had a hugely negative impact on many children. Most of the pupils in the rest of Europe are already successfully back at school.
Any parents who are not happy to send their children back in September could perhaps be allowed to initially choose to continue home-schooling, and health-impacted teachers should also be given the choice to opt out.
Many teachers are no doubt eager to get back to doing what they love. But for any who are not, I suggest they look for inspiration to our doctors, nurses, creche and supermarket workers.
To everyone else involved with organising the reopening of schools, you have had since mid-March to come up with a plan, and frankly the evidence is that you are making a meal of it.
The clock is ticking. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The current debate around the reopening of schools is fascinating, as it sounds like we’re approaching the problem of social distancing in classrooms as if we’re the first ones to have to think of a solution.
Early in the pandemic very insightful footage emerged from countries like Taiwan where they seem to have found a very practical solution, which includes cubicle-style dividers between desks and the requirement for all children to wear masks (where possible).
This alleviates the need for two metres between desks, which seems to be the conundrum occupying the headlines at the moment.
Can we pause and learn from the progressive solutions in other countries rather than seeing every stumbling block as a new problem, unique to Ireland only?– Yours, etc,