Time of international crisis but also an opportunity, say teachers

The UTU said now was a unique time to spend with children and get an insight into their education

TEACHERS have been "heartened" by the response of parents to the Covid-19 school shutdown.

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) said now was a time of opportunity.

While schools are closed until at least the end of the summer, the education minister has insisted it is not an extended holiday.

In a very short period, teachers produced learning packs to be sent to homes while lessons have been uploaded to the internet.

UTU General Secretary Jacquie White said families faced many challenges - health, financial, social.

"It's also a unique time to spend with children and get an insight into their education in a way we could never even have conceived of a couple of weeks ago," she said.

"It's a chance to just appreciate your children's company and get an insight into why we as teachers are so committed to their well-being and learning, despite the very real risks many are facing as they support key workers' children who are still in schools.

"Many schools have lesson plans online, some covering virtually every hour, every day and for every year group. However, as well as all this is there a plethora of other local, national and international online resources which schools use and which are open too to people at home - and often free."

Ms White added that it was important to realise this was a stressful time for mums and dads and the wider community, besieged by so many often life and death worries.

"It may seem that you child's education isn't perhaps the priority it once was. All this, however, will pass and our children will slot amazingly quickly back into their usual routines for children are always surprisingly resilient and adaptable," she said.

"We want to ensure that they have the best possible chance of doing this by keeping in touch with their learning - it's only natural for them to be inquisitive and want to discover and understand their world. This may be a chance for parents to pass on new skills and ideas too outside their children's usual timetable - cooking, for instance, or gardening and bird watching if you're lucky enough to have a garden.

"They can talk to children about geography the world around them through stories of places they've holidayed; or talk about history by telling stories of their childhoods and those of their parents and grandparents. I think this is a time to appreciate that learning and education doesn't just take place in a book in a classroom - it's everywhere."

Incoming UTU President Stephen McCord, head of science at Larne High School, agreed that structure was important, especially for older children where social media could be a distraction.

"Many schools have put pieces of work up online for pupils to continue and they should carry these out in the time they'd usually take in school," he said.

"However, family time is important too during these stressful days when they also may be concerned and anxious. Exercise and relaxation are key elements of the day as well and will help with mental health. We appreciate there will also be families with no access to a computer or where a number of children share it so while one child is online another could be reading or exercising. Again it's about structuring the day.

"It is important for them to keep focussed and carry on with the lessons being set. However, we should also remember that the next few weeks is just a small part of the year. There are so many online resources available – many of which are free or have free trials so there's always inspiration there if it's in short supply at home."


NOT all learning has to happen in school. Online resources include:

:: Reading Eggs for literacy

:: Mathletics for numeracy

:: BBC Skillwise for all areas of the primary curriculum

:: Khan Academy offers instructional lessons for free. It is particularly useful for maths

:: Grid Club offers gaming options for pupils to test their understanding of a range of their curriculum

:: Duolingo for languages

:: Blockly or Scratch for coding skills

:: Stay active at Go Noodle which offers children opportunities to use their screen to get up on and move

:: The National Geographic Kids site has articles, quizzes and fun activities

:: TED Ed offers older pupils a variety of topics to explore

:: For P1 and P2 pupils - ICT Games, Top Marks, Jolly Phonics, Teach Your Monster To Read

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