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Students need answers now to Covid education crisis

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Education Minister Norma Foley will report to Cabinet today on the progress of talks with the teaching unions. Photo: Julien Behal

Education Minister Norma Foley will report to Cabinet today on the progress of talks with the teaching unions. Photo: Julien Behal

Education Minister Norma Foley will report to Cabinet today on the progress of talks with the teaching unions. Photo: Julien Behal

At last we have some clarity about the phased reopening of schools but Leaving Certificate students have to wait a bit longer to be told what’s in store for them.

Minister Norma Foley will today brief her colleagues at a Cabinet sub-committee on education about the latest developments in the intense talks with teacher unions.

The sooner she makes an announcement about the Leaving, the better. Final year in second-level school is stressful enough but the uncertainty over what combination of exams and calculated grades will be available has added to that pressure.

Families know too well the effects of that stress and rightly dismiss suggestions the students are simply “snowflakes” who should “get tough” and “suck it up”. The view “they don’t know what real stress is” smacks of ignorance of the facts.

Covid-19 is hard on everyone but for the pandemic generation it means being stuck at home at a time of their lives when they crave the company of others. Online chats with pals, no more than online lessons, are not as good as the real deal.

Teenagers are evolutionarily wired to become increasingly dependent on their friends and less on their parents. But that natural development has been put on hold for the best part of a year, taking its toll on their mental and physical health, their wellbeing, behaviour and academic performance. Add exam uncertainty into that mix and you have a combustible combination which has to be defused quickly.

Teachers may have genuine concerns about the details of the exam and calculated grades
arrangements but the way to iron them out is through talking.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland is to be commended for staying the course when colleagues in the ASTI walked out last week. They quickly returned following pressure by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union, politicians and general public. Teachers have to make the new arrangements work, imperfect as they may well be.

As Labour’s education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin remarked, it’s impossible to have an arrangement that satisfies everybody, but clarity is essential.

Ms Foley also has to tell Junior Cycle students what’s happening to them. Will the Junior Cert be collateral damage this June as it was last year when it was cancelled without a by-your-leave?

Parents need more details on the phased reopening of schools due to commence in early March. Students with special educational needs are rightly getting priority but we need to resume in-school Leaving Cert classes.

The World Health Organisation has warned prolonged school closures have a clear negative impact on children’s health, education and development, family income and the overall economy.

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The vast majority of parents want their children in school and the Government is under strong pressure to get teachers back to the classrooms.

A political problem becomes a crisis when it goes on for too long and this one certainly has.


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