Reopening schools – politics and reality
Sir, – The Coalition foolishly staked its credibility on schools getting back to normal in late August. If schools do not fully open then the Government will therefore be ridiculed. If they open and then have to close because of a massive increase in Covid-19 infections, the Government can at least say that it did its best and lived up to its promise.
However, the optimum scenario from the Government’s perspective is if some organisation, preferably the teacher unions, refuses to cooperate with the reckless reopening “roadmap”. Then the Coalition will avoid all blame and gain considerable public support by saying that it tried to reopen schools but were blocked by work-shy teachers.
As a consequence, educational leaders who should be highlighting the unworkability of the current plan are doing the exact opposite. For example, some school principals, instead of letting parents know what they really think, appear in public with metre sticks and a can-do attitude. Meanwhile the CEOs of organisations like the Educational and Training Boards and Educate Together, along with the joint managerial body and the teacher unions, endorse the disastrous reopening plan by making vague references to following the latest health advice.
The result of schools fully reopening will most likely be another lockdown but crucially nobody will be to blame. It looks like politics, and not irresponsible social behaviour, has become Covid-19’s best friend. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As a parent and a teacher, I fully realise the pressure on the Department of Education and the importance of getting the schools open.
I have spent much of the past week readying what was my classroom for the last 20 years for the new occupants next week. Shelves, storage units and copious bundles of notes have all been binned. Some desks and chairs have been jettisoned. But does any sane person believe cramming 23 large teenagers into one room for six hours, introducing up to nine different adults into the mix, and letting them wander into their subject options and the local village for lunch, are going to keep them safe?
Our priority should be to slowly reopen in as safe a manner as possible. What is important is slowly introducing the opportunity for our young people to interact and glimpse a sort of normality again. There is no point in frantically throwing open the doors if we are closing them again in a fortnight.
Classes should be halved, with students attending in either the morning or afternoon. This would immediately ease pressure on public transport and allow more human space in cramped classrooms. Teachers would still be working full days and preparing for online and actual classes.
We need to temper our expectations. Does it really matter in these difficult times if only six sonnets instead of 15 are taught? Does it matter if only six subjects are taught instead of eight? What matters now is that we protect our young people and the vulnerable, exposed special needs assistants, teachers, cleaners, caretakers and secretaries, who are also carers, parents and valuable frontline workers.
It is not too late for the Minister to make the right call and slow the pace of reopening. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Prof Linda Connolly voices the views of many parents who question the wisdom of 100 per cent face-to-face learning in overcrowded schools in the midst of a pandemic (“Is it sensible to fully reopen schools?”, Opinion & Analysis, August 19th). If even a small percentage of parents are in a position to keep their children at home through the winter months and supervise their remote learning, should not the Departments of Health and Education pounce on this opportunity? This is not 1918. Why not embrace the technology that is available to us and provide concrete support to parents and children willing to pursue online learning, and in so doing open up space in the classrooms for the children who need it most? – Yours, etc,
A chara, – I draft this letter in the car where I wait to collect my 11-year-old from her GAA game. Outside, the wind is gusting 33 km/h. Under latest Covid restrictions, I stay in the car park because I am not allowed out to watch 30 children play a 30-minute game from the side of a pitch of about 10,400 square metres.
In just over a week’s time, I return to my city school to teach a daily aggregate of 199 teenagers for six hours inside a poorly aired box of about 45 square metres.
I’m not a maths teacher but something here does not quite add up. – Yours, etc