Education news

Follow Denmark 'wholly and honestly' urges teaching leader

Most classrooms have been empty for the past eight weeks

SCHOOLS should follow the Danish model "wholly and honestly" when emerging from the education shutdown, a teaching leader has urged.

Pupils have been learning from home for the past eight weeks and there is no target date for the complete reopening of schools in Northern Ireland.

The National Education Union (NEU) has described the UK government's decision to bring children back into primary schools in England in June as reckless and premature.

Its Northern Ireland regional secretary, Mark Langhammer, told the Stormont education committee that pupils should only return when it is safe.

The reopening of schools is "likely to be staged and difficult".

Writing in a blog on the NEU website, Mr Langhammer said the north could learn from other countries.

In seeking to drive a return by June 1, he wrote, the UK government was desperate for an example of democratic countries that had quashed the virus.

Mr Langhammer said Pacific rim countries of Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea did not entirely fit the bill as they were democratic "only in a very formal sense, having mimic-style `liberal-democratic discourses'".

The German model in which older pupils returned to school first, he said, was also not applicable while the good example of New Zealand's Covid-19 response also proved problematic for the UK government.

"New Zealand adopted the message `more hard and early' and it seems to have worked. Yes, it has the advantages of remoteness, and well dispersed population centres," he wrote.

"There is some scepticism about under-counting and the figures for community transmission. The new term of ‘silent transmission’ is creeping in –– but Jacinda Ardern’s surefootedness (on the same evidence base as the UK) ensures that she enjoys unrivalled trust and authority. Relatively, the UK appears as a basket case country, with the US seen as a lost cause."

Shorn of suitable alternatives, the 'go-to' exemplar the Boris Johnson government finally utilised was Denmark, Mr Langhammer added.

"Here, schools are reopening, initially at primary level. The Danish model could only fly as a precedent if accompanied by a brazen push that covered the cracks. This is proving a difficult, but necessary task. It is clear that critical elements present in the Danish model are absent in England," he said.

In Denmark, the death-rate and infection statistics are "significantly ‘south’ of those in the UK", he said.

Educational unions in Denmark have been closely and routinely consulted throughout.

"In Denmark's schools, risk has been mitigated with lower class sizes than the UK, a teacher-pupil ration of 10 to 1, with learning ‘pods’ or groups of four pupils recommended. More teachers have been employed to facilitate this. There is strong and rigid social distancing practice, and handwash in every classroom," Mr Langhammer said.

"The UK's rushed proposals for a schools' return are far from the clarity of Denmark; In Denmark, the Mette Frederiksen-led Social Democratic government, and its scientific evidence base, enjoy high levels of public trust that Boris Johnson’s chaos theory driven government could only dream of.

"By all means follow the Danish model but follow it wholly and honestly. Schools can and should be re-opened but only when it is safe to do so."

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