School’s out, but shortly after 9am, pupils in one primary school were hard at work letting the teachers know how they fared with last night’s homework.
It was very much business as usual for Faughart Community National School (CNS), Co Louth, where its use of the virtual classroom has dissolved the enforced distance between teachers and pupils.
The school day normally starts at 8.50am and, not long afterwards, pupils were already posting their maths homework online for the attention of teaching Principal Jacqui McCusker. And she was giving them real-time feedback.
The 50-pupil, three-teacher tech-savvy school is showing that even for pupils of a young age, geographic separation need not be a boundary to teaching and learning.
The advanced technological skillset at Faughart CNS is down to a principal who worked for seven years as a computer programmer in the pharmaceutical industry before turning to teaching.
Pupils from first class up are all taught how to type, are adept at using the Office365 online platform and its suite of educational tools and are well practised at sharing their work with their teachers online.
Ms McCusker was at a training session yesterday when word of the shutdown came through and she rushed back to school to sit down with staff to prepare for the weeks ahead.
“I wanted to make it easy for parents and children. We are going to give them daily guidance on what to do. We will just go what we do in school”, she said.
The principal also teaches 17 sixth class pupils and her first priority for them was to set up a learning plan to follow today.
It opened with: “I am keeping to our regular Friday timetable, so please make every effort to follow this plan, just like you do in class.”
Their first task was to log in to Office 365 and input the answers for yesterday’s maths homework into the Office Forms Quiz tool, where she can access their score.
Other work set for today included English and Irish spelling and, for English Writing, they were asked to publish their creative creature’s reports.
“If you are finished publishing this work, you can start on your procedure for making pancakes. Don't forget to share your work with me and allow editing” she added.
She also reminded them to take exercise and, if the weather did not allow for outdoor activity, they could do yoga poses and practice Siege of Ennis steps, with links to videos to guide them.
The principal signed off with: “Have a lovely weekend. Just before you go, let me know how you got on learning from home today. What bits did you enjoy? What was challenging to do at home? I'll be back on here on Monday morning :)"
And she also took care to check in with their well-being, by asking: “How was your day?”
The staff met at the school today to continue with their lesson planning, including creating videos, and will send out daily updates to parents and pupils, with video links to support the continuity of education in the home.
The community national school is now in its third year and when Ms McCusker was appointed, it was important to her that ICT be integrated into teaching and learning and that pupils would be equipped with necessary 21st century skills.
The school is under the patronage of the Louth Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) and she said the ETB helped to equip it resources.
Not all primary schools have this level of technological expertise and the prolonged closure will exacerbate the digital divide already evident in education, attributed to widely varying skills levels among teachers and the quality of broadband connectivity .