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School closures are increasing educational disadvantage, warns SVP policy officer

By Cian Molloy - 03 May, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified educational disadvantages, as many low income families do not have the

Home schooling is now the norm (Pic: Iowapolitics.com via Flickr)

facilities for distance learning or home schooling, says Marcella Stakem of the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

While additional resources and supports are being made available by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and individual schools, some parents lack the capacity to help their children use these effectively, the SVP research and policy officer argues.

“Not all parents have the skills, time or health to help children with distance learning and not all schools and pupils have the necessary technology to enable such learning,” says Stakem, citing a Maynooth University report, Covid-19 Practice in Primary Schools in Ireland.

Stakem welcomed an announcement that a €10m fund is being set up to support the purchase of IT devices for disadvantaged students, but she pointed to even more basic needs affecting educational opportunities during the lockdown: “Some households lack the physical resources necessary to support their child’s learning, for example, families living in homeless accommodation and direct provision centres.

“It is very challenging in those circumstances to study when there is no separate space away from the rest of the family. Children and young people from the Traveller community also experience similar difficulties.”

The pandemic has hit those who were already suffering disadvantage the hardest, the SVP research officer says: “For the thousands of families who were already struggling with low-wage and precarious employment, housing insecurity, lack of affordable childcare and social isolation, Covid-19 has added to their burden, not least on the educational implications of our young people.

“Efforts to support disadvantaged students to learn during the pandemic have been positive if somewhat disorganised. However, there is further work to be completed to ensure that inequalities in education do not become more pronounced during the current public health crisis.”

However, this time of difficulty could be turned to the country’s long term advantage, Stakem argues. “This could also be an opportunity to level the playing field; for the new government to learn some lessons about how education could be designed more equitably.”

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