Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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293. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the impact that recent events have had on fifth year students; and the steps being taken to support them. [6410/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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Since the announcement in March that schools would close and the subsequent extensions of that closure, I and my Department have made it clear that teachers and other staff in the education sector would continue to work and to engage with their students. My Department has written to school management and asked schools to put in place arrangements to continue the delivery of education to students.  A series of guidance notes to support schools in how to effectively support and engage with their students continues to be compiled to address challenges in providing programmes of continued learning in the current context.

School and college buildings since May 18thare available for access by teachers to facilitate the organisation and distribution of remote learning.

Specific guidance on the continuity of schooling for primary and post-primary schools issued on Thursday 2nd April. Further guidance issued on 22nd  April, with a particular focus on supporting students with special educational needs and students at risk of educational disadvantage. These guidance documents are available on my Department’s website.

The guidance is informed by feedback from school surveys and prompted by a growing demand in some schools seeking such guidance. The reaction from schools is that this material is particularly useful as they navigate the challenges associated with the new teaching and learning environment that has emerged through enforced closures of schools during the public health crises.

The nature of distant learning has required schools to take on a range of approaches to support their students. Schools and teachers have demonstrate great innovation in adapting to the new situation. Many schools are using digital resources and remote teaching as well as communicating with parents through email and digital apps to provide work for students. The Department is aware that many schools are using e-platforms to enable their teachers to provide work to students, particularly to students in examination classes, and to enable students to complete tasks and tests for assessment.

Resources to support the transition to distant learning are being provided by the Department support service, the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST),. Scoilnet the Department’s educational portal provides access to a wide variety of resources and information developed by various services including: the PDST, Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT), the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the National Council for Special Education. These resources can all be accessed at . Scoilnet also provides access to extensive educational resources including Worldbook Online, at www.scoilnet.ie

As part of the implementation of the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 Enhancing Teaching Learning and Assessment, funding of €210m for ICT Infrastructure will be distributed to schools over the five years of the Strategy. €110m has issued over the lifetime of the strategy to date. €50m is issuing now in the form of a grant payment to all eligible schools. 

In the context of the current public health crisis the funding can be focussed on assisting schools to address ICT needs to support the provision of remote learning.  This can include the purchase of ICT devices that can be shared with students who do not have access to devices, essential learning platforms and other ICT infrastructure to support the provision of remote learning.

The Department will continue to work with the education partners to provide solutions in areas where digital and remote learning options may not be possible.

In the context of planning for a return to school which is underway, I expect those going into sixth year in post primary schools to be a group that will receive a particular focus in the context or preparations for the Leaving Certificate examinations in 2021.

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