Covid-19 crisis exposes education’s digital divide

25 March 2020

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the damaging extent of Ireland’s digital divide in education, according to Labour Party education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

The Dublin Bay North TD praised teachers and other school staff for their magnificent efforts to help students continue their studies remotely. But he said the digital divide and other aspects of deprivation made this all but impossible for many.

“Recent research tells us that 14% of Irish homes with a nine-year-old child have no computer. Separate CSO figures show that almost a quarter of the most deprived households have no fixed broadband connection, which is by far the most common means of at-home internet access.

“Children in those homes are severely disadvantaged at all times. Right now they are effectively cut out of the education system.

“Children who are homeless or living in cramped and crowded family settings are also finding it harder to study at home, even if they have access to digital learning.

“These everyday realities for poor and disadvantaged children across the country – and for many better-off families living in rural Ireland – have been thrown into sharp relief by the coronavirus crisis.

I have called on the Minister to give clarity on whether the Leaving Cert exams will go ahead on June 3rd as planned. He should also factor the digital divide into any decision on whether the Leaving Cert exams can continue.

“Middle class assumptions about doing oral exams via Skype have exposed the political system’s ignorance about the realities of disadvantage experienced by many children. 

“The coronavirus has exposed the digital divide in Ireland and the depth of the inequality in our education system. We cannot return to business as usual once we recover from this crisis, which we will by working together.

Yesterday (Tuesday) Deputy Ó Ríordáin called on the Minister to bring together representatives of parents and students, along with the education unions and opposition spokespeople, to deal with the impact of Covid-19 on education and exams. “This type of collaborative approach has worked quite well in other departments and can bring more clarity in a very uncertain situation. For the sake of every student, teacher and parent, the same approach is needed in education,” he said.

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