UNESCO data on extent to Irish school closures cause for alarm – Catch Up and July Provision Responses are lacking
Labour spokesperson on children, Senator Ivana Bacik, has again urged Government to implement a €100 million ‘Catch Up for Children’ scheme to make up for lost time in the classroom, and has warned that this year’s Summer Provision programme must be a success in order to offset the effects of prolonged school closures in 2020 and 2021.
Citing UNESCO data which underlines the prolonged duration of Ireland’s pandemic-related school closures compared to those of other countries, Senator Bacik said that unfortunately the most vulnerable children in society would pay the heaviest price for such closures. The onus is on the Government, she said, must be to intervene and protect the interests of those children most affected.
Senator Bacik said:
“School closures were a necessary but very challenging response to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. To their immense credit, teachers, SNAs and other school staff adapted excellently to teaching from home, with help from parents across the country. However, it is widely acknowledged that this just did not replace the in-class experience for children, particularly with many teachers citing challenges in engaging all students, and especially vulnerable students.
“Rights are not suspended in a public health crisis. In fact, during times of crisis, protection of human rights is most important. Children in Ireland have a right to receive education; this right is enshrined in the Constitution and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government’s failure to develop and communicate a plan for how it plans to vindicate that right in this challenging year is deeply concerning.
“In February of this year, I first called for a ‘Catch Up for Children’ fund, mirroring others implemented around Europe. This programme would reach out to children and families and bring them into a targeted system to bridge the gap in their education and social development due to lost time in the classroom. Labour’s scheme would be similar to the £1 billion scheme launched in the UK to protect and support the most vulnerable pupils and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and would require funding of €100 million.
“This best practice is being followed in other European countries where schools were closed for shorter periods of time than Ireland. Italy will invest over €500 million in their children, keeping schools open and focusing on developing students’ social and creative skills with lessons focused on sports, photography and the arts. This funding will be targeted in locations where children have struggled the most with remote learning. Why doesn’t the Government want to do the same for our children?
“I’m also concerned with the lack of urgency or interest shown by Government on the uptake of July Provision, despite the doubling of funding for this year’s programme. I’ve been inundated with communication from many local parents in my own area of Dublin Bay South who have flagged that the uptake for July Provision is alarmingly slow. Government needs to take a proactive approach to ensure that there is a good uptake of this vital resource, reaching out to communities and targeting those who need it most. Unfortunately, July Provision alone will not be enough for those children so severely impacted by school closures.
“We cannot put a price on ensuring that all children in Ireland are given a fair start. I urge Government to take a more proactive approach to protecting our children for the future of our country. We need to make up for all the time during which students missed out on in-class learning. We need to invest in the repair work now.”
To see the full UNESCO data, please click here: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse#schoolclosures