As uncertainty remains pertaining to the return to school of pupils and students who have not received face to face educational guidance for close to six months, the pertinent issue is very much the focus of persistent discussion as the Government and authorities aim to arrive at a plan which will ensure the implementation of relevant health and safety protocol.
Education Minister, Norma Foley, issued guidance in recent times detailing the practical arrangements and practices to support a safe return for pupils, students and staff to primary and secondary schools, but controversy remains with regard to the key issue of social distancing measures.
Advise from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC ) notes that there is no requirement for social distancing for pupils up to and including second class, but a minimum one metre distance should apply for older students.
Such a scenario would make it nigh impossible for the full return of students to a classroom situation on a daily basis and with a mere six weeks to the proposed return to an education environment full health and safety protocol clarity has yet to be detailed.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, Brendan Waldron, Coláiste Chiaráin Principal, noted the vivid concern amongst colleagues and parents as the school awaits concrete health and safety protocol guidance from the relevant authorities.
“”We are still awaiting relevant guidance with regard a return to the post primary education environment. We want to return to a face to face working situation towards the end of August but time is elapsing without significant health and safety protocol information forthcoming from the Government.
“We want to be in a position whereby we can facilitate the return of all our students to a classroom situation but at the present moment, the lack of relevant advise is very much a cause for concern,” Brendan asserted.
Teaching within a post primary setting, interaction between teachers and students is frequent particularly with regard to practical subjects.
“Students share equipment within a practical subject (home economics, technical drawing ) environment, but this will not be feasible upon our return.
“Should students have to alternate their post primary school week, that will have ramifications for the classroom timetable. Our lunch time will also have to be staggered as the students will not be permitted to gather en masse within a canteen setting,” Brendan emphasised.
With one third of Coláiste Chiaráin students travelling to the school via bus, the implementation of social distancing measures will impact upon public transport capacity with alternative modes of journeying to school a necessity.
“There are many issues on which we require urgent clarification before we can contemplate a return to full education mode,” Brendan stressed.
Additional funding may be required upon the return to education as sanitisers are dotted throughout the school and a stringent cleaning regime implemented to ensure the health and safety of staff and students.
“If classes are to be smaller in student size. there will be a need for more teachers. There must be a plan unveiled for implementation as soon as possible as without appropriate clarity, the uncertainty will remain,” Brendan continued.
While acknowledging that blended learning will continue to be a prevalent part of matters education, Brendan is of the opinion that the teacher-student face to face working classroom environment is the optimum manner in which to impart education.
“A return to school in late August, early September is a must for the wellbeing of each student. They have been out of the school environment for close to six months now and I hope that relevant health and safety guidelines materialises from the Government imminently.
“We cannot eliminate all risk but I am hopeful that the Government will arrive at a workable plan that will appease and enable a return to school.
“As teachers we want to be back within our working surrounds and we look forward to the day when such a scenario arrives,” Brendan concluded.