Northern Ireland news

Time to `redesign' education system

Gerry Murphy, INTO Northern Secretary

THE coronavirus pandemic has created an opportunity for a redesign of the education system, a teaching union leader has said.

Gerry Murphy, Irish National Teachers' Organisation Northern Secretary said there was a window to " push the re-set button".

Schools have been closed since March and will return in stages after the summer holiday.

Children and teachers have been engaged in remote and online learning.

Mr Murphy said the desire to see schools up and running again was paramount.

However, what that might look like remained a question for which no clear answer had emerged, he said.

He added that the experiences of other countries who already have begun the reopening process would be key to informing progress.

More than 200 schools in South Korea were forced to close just days after they reopened, due to a new spike in virus cases.

News concerning further outbreaks related to schools in Germany and France were also "sobering pointers to the potential pitfalls if we fail to get this right".

Mr Murphy said the north's education system was "already on the point of collapse" prior to the pandemic having endured a decade of cuts which left hundreds of schools in dire financial straits.

"The school estate remains in need of a complete overhaul, the maintenance bill for outstanding work alone is the thick end of half a billion pounds," he said.

"Too many of our schools are without access to the basics such as hot water for hand washing. These issues present just a flavour of what needs fixing as we go forward into an uncertain future. Those planning for a wider reopening of schools are aware of all these issues and the capacity to overcome them will have to be found.

"If we are to successfully reopen the schools, the physical challenges around safety can only be addressed with clear advice and the necessary additional resourcing. A further set of challenges, centring on the type of educational offering to be made available to the children and young people, will need to be properly managed."

He added that the cancelling of formal examinations and a growing realisation that the curriculum may have to be adjusted for the next academic year created challenges and opportunities.

"Does this pandemic provide an opportunity to push the re-set button on the education system? I believe it does. We now have the chance to redesign our education system," Mr Murphy said.

"We are in the third decade of the 21st century and yet we have a system which was largely shaped in early decades of the 20th century; a very different world.

"Let us all come together and shape an education system that will equip our people, society and the economy for this new global world. Such an endeavour would be a fitting legacy for all of those this pandemic has claimed."

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