Let disadvantaged children be first to return to schools
CHILDREN in areas of disadvantage should be the first to return to classrooms when schools re-open, it has been urged.
It has been claimed that the closure of schools, and sudden change to remote and online learning, has exposed a "digital divide".
There are concerns that many young people are missing out as they do not have access to devices or broadband.
Schools have now been closed for normal learning for five weeks.
The Department of Education has sent principals a questionnaire designed to find out more about the success or otherwise of online learning.
Many teachers are delivering lessons through apps and programs including SeeSaw, Google Classroom and Zoom.
The department has asked schools to say if they are using online learning as part of their distance provision and if they are lending devices to pupils to allow them to have access.
It also asked principals to outline the main reasons for any lack of access for young people, which could include a lack of technology or broadband issues.
Professor Tony Gallagher from Queen's University Belfast said the closure of schools had revealed "the stark reality of the digital divide and the huge inequalities of circumstance among children and families".
Writing on Slugger O'Toole, Prof Gallagher said the issue was not getting the attention it deserves.
Countries including Germany and Denmark are bringing children back in phases.
In Denmark, the re-opening applies to primary schools, desks have to be two metres apart, no more than 10 children are allowed in a classroom and parent pick-ups haver to be staggered.
"In other countries, including NI and the Republic, consideration on reopening schools is also under consideration, but also under similar restrictions and options: for targeted groups of pupils, with strict social distancing rules, sometimes using shift systems such that pupils have a shorter school day, or only attend a few days a week," Prof Gallagher said.
"Whatever measures are put in place it will be some considerable time before schools operate in anything that approximates to normality.
"If we are going to start the slow process of reopening schools, perhaps we should ensure that the children most disadvantaged by the lockdown are the ones who return first?"
Last week, an average of 1,056 pupils were looked after each day in schools across the north - the highest average since the start of the blanket closure.
NUMBERS OF PUPILS IN OPEN SCHOOLS
DAY SCHOOLS PUPILS
FRI Apr 24 455 937
THU Apr 23 479 1097
WED Apr 22 463 1067
TUE Apr 21 468 1135
MON Apr 20 479 1047