Pupils at heart of creative and determined approach to remote learning – Maynooth study

Academics Jolanta Burke, Ph.D., CPsychol. & Majella Dempsey published the findings of an extensive survey exploring how schools are adapting to the life under COVID-19. The report, titled ‘COVID-19 Practice in Primary Schools in Ireland Report’ was published on 1 April 2020 and is available here. The survey took place during the current school closure.

Teachers outlined the difficulties in mimicking certain aspects of school life, and cited concerns about the digital divide that exists across schools. Different levels of capacity, skills and access creates an unfair playing field which means that some teachers and pupils are struggling with the support and upskilling necessary to bridge this gap.

Whilst flexibility and autonomy are important, the need for more practical and tailored guidance to guide home based learning was raised by participants with many citing having spent hours navigating online platforms to identify useful resources to use in their own exchanges with pupils at home. Expectations must be managed and clear guidance would provide both educator and pupil with a clear understanding of what they can expect from the current configuration – avoiding comparing different schools and approaches in an unhelpful manner. Clear and unambiguous guidelines are required to support principals and teachers in planning for and supporting their pupils’ learning at home.

Wellbeing, both for pupils and teachers is at the heart of the approach to both remote learning and some of the frustrations raised by teachers. Vulnerable pupils suffer disproportionately under the new restrictions and the study identified SEN and infant pupils in particular as a key concern for schools across the country.

Semantics too were a feature of the study. Participants questioned the accuracy of terms such as ‘distance learning’ or ‘delivering the curriculum’ – it’s not about ‘curriculum delivery’, but about supporting children’s learning at home. The focus should be on what pupils can learn in the current circumstances and how teachers can support that learning. Schools noted how unhelpful it is to compare work currently set by teachers to what might ordinarily be covered in a normal classroom setting.

Participants praised the resilience and determination of school leaders, communities and educators with Home School Liaison Officers singled out for particular praise.

Some 2,808 school leaders completed the online survey, 85 per cent of all school leaders in the country.

A copy of the report is available here.