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We need some answers to break through confusion



New Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath

New Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath

New Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath

They say the only geniuses produced by chaos in society are those who do something about it. Unfortunately, we are still awaiting one to emerge out of the shambles surrounding a return to schools. The main unions have called for clarity, but have been offered an ever deepening fog of confusion.

Further appeals for direction have bounced back against walls of ambiguity. Parents, too, are driven to distraction trying to get some sense of what is going on.

Unions want a Covid-free environment, to which students and teachers have an absolute right. To be fair, the Government has just been installed with a new minister pitched into the thick of it.

But questions such as: "When will children be returning to school, and will it be safe for them to do so?" have been left hanging since the pandemic struck.

It is time we had some answers.

The general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Kieran Christie, has warned politicians that classrooms will look empty because his members would not be there under current medical advice. Guidance on social distancing from the Department of Education means schools will not be back full-time for all students.

As the general secretary of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, John MacGabhann, reminded all concerned, there is no "magical immunity".

Confidence that pupils and teachers will be protected is not too much to expect.

Nor is clarity on how, and when, this can be done.

We have heard repeated commitments on getting students back into the classroom, but the detail on how this can be done is still awaited, and time is running out.

It should be remembered primary schools in this country often have at least 30 children. Managing social distancing in over-crowded classrooms is an oxymoron.

Education Minister Norma Foley has told RTÉ public health advice will underpin reopening.

But she agreed her department "is planning in a situation that is in a state of flux", while availing of the best advice.

Pressed further on managing children in early years classes, she said a class will be treated as a "bubble" and within one bubble there will be a series of "pods".

"Bubbles" and "pods"? Parents who are any the wiser should go to the top of the class.

Ms Foley is only telling it as it is, but "as it is" is not good enough. Nor is it very reassuring or enlightening for concerned parents.

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Asked about the one-metre rule in secondary schools, Ms Foley agreed such a distance would be maintained.

But again, when pressed on schools not in a position to adhere to guidelines, she said "that's where discussion comes in".

If not making a drama out of a crisis is a good thing for a government to avoid, not making a farce out of one is even more critical.

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