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Digital divide is leaving many students at a disadvantage during schools shutdown


John Boyle, general secretary of INTO, questioned timing

John Boyle, general secretary of INTO, questioned timing

John Boyle, general secretary of INTO, questioned timing

The digital divide is leaving many pupils at a disadvantage during the current school closure, according to research.

It has emerged as a key concern in a survey of 2,808 primary principals.

The study by Jolanta Burke and Majella Dempsey of Maynooth University explored how schools have been adapting, and among their findings was that 39pc of principals agreed there was a digital divide in their school.

"Different levels of capacity, skills and access creates an unfair playing field which means that some teachers and pupils are struggling with the support and upskilling necessary to bridge this gap," the authors state.

The study was among the sources used to inform new Department of Education advice, Guidance on Continuity of Schooling, for primary and post-primary schools while the closure, due to the coronavirus crisis, continues.

The department's guidance does not address the digital divide, although it does point to a range of ways that schools can support contact with families and pupil learning and officials are working directly with some schools.

Among the department's recommendations is that primary teachers should engage with pupils every day, where possible, and post-primary teachers should do so on days that they are normally timetabled for lessons with students.

The study found that less than one-third (29pc) of primary teachers were in daily contact with pupils and 43pc were in weekly contact.

The publication of the department's guidance yesterday sparked a row with the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), whose general secretary John Boyle hit out at the timing, at the start of the Easter break, and said it was unacceptable that it was published without consultation.

Meanwhile, universities say the design and assessment of end-of-year exams "will take into account the challenges and stresses facing students".

Universities and institutes of technology are finalising arrangements for exams to go online or for other non face-to-face assessments.

The Irish Universities Association said the primary objective of the universities was that students be able to complete this semester and either graduate or progress to the next year of study.

It said that universities recognised that many students faced challenges, including studying in difficult conditions, caring for others and limited internet access.

The Technological Higher Education Association said that "no student will be disadvantaged as a result of the contingency plans that have been put in place, and no student will be unnecessarily delayed".

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