Jess Casey: Remote learning lays bare society's inequalities 

Jess Casey: Remote learning lays bare society's inequalities 

Even with the best efforts of everyone involved, remote learning during 2020 was far from ideal. 

Irish education changed completely overnight as classrooms were forced to close last March with very little warning.

At the beginning of the closures, discussions around the future of learning and how the pandemic would shape education were genuinely really positive.

Teachers came up with creative ways to keep their students engaged, using new and different apps, learning platforms, and games. The RTÉ School Hub was developed, a TV programme embodying the best ideals of public service broadcasting. 

But remote learning also laid bare a range of systematic failures and inequalities, both in the Irish education system and in wider society, disproportionately affecting vulnerable children.

Access to education was suddenly largely dependent on a family’s access to laptops, tablets, smartphones, and broadband. 

Parents found themselves under immense pressure, caught in the unfamiliar position of trying to play teacher between their own Zoom meetings, all during a time of national emergency.

Essential workers struggled with childcare, and teachers did too. Burnout also increased amongst principals, teachers, students, and parents with each incremental extension of the closures. 

The loss of learning during the school closures last year is also well documented, putting exam year students now under severe pressure. 

It also impacted on primary school children's learning. 

A recent study by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) found that the most common amount of time spent on remote learning at home reported by parents was 10 to 30 minutes per day, followed by 30 minutes to one hour per day.

But more importantly than anything else, the closure of classrooms had an unmeasurable effect on vulnerable children. 

For thousands of children living in poverty, the extended classroom closures cut off their access to books and hot meals, leaving schools to pick up the pieces. 

The parents of children with special educational needs, who never had it easy when it came to accessing resources, once again had to fight for their children’s right to education.

School closures also exacerbated the inequalities faced by Traveller and Roma children, children living in direct provision, and homeless children living in hotel rooms and emergency accommodation. 

There is also an unknown number of children who for all intents and purposes appear to have a stable home life when it couldn’t be further from the case. 

Now facing new closures until at least the end of the month, Inclusion Ireland, AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, and the Children’s Rights Alliance have called on the Government to consider the effects on the State's most vulnerable children. 

Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, has specifically called for the "substantial negative impact" on vulnerable groups to be considered as part of any long-term measures to reduce transmission. 

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