Covid-19 forced schools and universities in Ireland to go online. Months later, the reopening was announced, but will everything get back to what it was before? Let’s see how the education system in Ireland responded to Covid-19 and went online, and what changes are yet awaiting us.
Institutions adapted to Covid-19
In March, schools and universities in Ireland had to shut down. At that time no one knew how long it would last, but institutions anticipated they wouldn’t reopen until the end of the academic year. The whole education system had to quickly adapt to online teaching.
Transferring into an online format did not only mean online lectures. Other services earlier available on campus had to go online. Administrative questions could only be solved via telephone or email.
During these chaotic times, colleges also paid attention to their students’ mental health. For example, some offered fully funded online counselling and yoga sessions.
Covid-19 expanded our use of technologies; before the pandemic, we wouldn’t even think one can do so much just using the computer. Could you imagine at-home exams or online graduation? When this is all over, institutions will definitely be more open to using technologies in teaching.
But will online classes fully replace in-person ones?
Online teaching: drawbacks
No doubt online teaching does have its problems. When schools closed, a lot of responsibility was laid on parents. 4,300 parents of junior and senior school children were asked regarding their experiences during Covid-19, and many of them were not that happy about new rules. 39% of the respondents noted they had problems with the internet connection. This was often the case for rural areas where Wi-Fi services are not as good as in the city.
Not every parent knows how to use technologies; some of them did not feel competent enough with them. Parents complained that it was not easy to help with homework because some families have only one computer – both for parents’ work and children’s lessons.
The good thing is, you don’t need to teach children to use electronic devices. They all know how to use them. But using them for studies is quite challenging. Kids can’t keep concentrated for too long in general; what happens when lessons go online? Concentration decreases even faster.
What can be expected of a pupil if adults can’t focus? There are a number of articles on the internet about how Zoom lectures cause fatigue more than face-to-face meetings do. Lectures that last longer than an hour make students feel tired and less concentrated on the material. To be honest, listening to a Zoom lecture with dozens of other people can be boring. If online teaching continues, universities have to come up with new approaches, be less instructor-centred and involve more interaction. It’s not simply about transferring the usual offline material into an online format. Students need brand new methods like small group discussion instead of synchronous lectures.
The most important thing people are sceptical about – will online education ever be so good to replace face-to-face teaching?
Schools and universities reopening?
It’s hard to believe but students will return to classrooms in fall 2020. Schools will reopen on a full-time basis in late August, though it won’t be like it was in the era before Covid-19. It will require additional safety measures, physical distancing, smaller groups of pupils, masks for over 13s and so on.
For colleges and universities, it will be harder to get back to normal. It’s still hard to imagine thousands of people moving around on campus while Covid-19 isn’t yet over.
However, universities can’t wait to return as much “normal” study experience as possible in given circumstances. Some even claim online resources will only provide support to in-person courses. It’s likely that some courses will be offline in fall 2020, but remote teaching will still be the only option for large lectures as it was in the last semester.
In some cases, students will even have a chance to choose if they want to study on-campus or online. All offline courses will be given in small groups and with safety precautions. Physical distancing will be required, though in some cases like labs where proximity is inevitable, students might stand close to each other if they’re wearing masks. Regulations in fall 2020 will vary in different universities, plus it all depends on the situation with Covid-19 in September.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said it’s important to have freshman students on campus to introduce them to their colleges. As a first-year student, you wouldn’t be too excited to start studying via Zoom, especially if you’ve travelled from a foreign country. So, for incoming students, fall 2020 will be as close to normality as possible.
The finances of Irish universities are in trouble due to Covid-19. There will be a huge drop in the budget, mainly because fewer international students are coming to Ireland in fall 2020 and 2021. The international student fee is almost twice as much as the domestic student fee, so international students contribute quite a lot. But not this year.
Colleges will try to compensate for incoming international students by inviting more domestic students, but their tuition fees will barely cover the amount needed. Some universities even stopped the recruiting process to save money.
There will be financial support of €168 million for students and third-level institutions. This money will be given to provide students with all safety measures, mental health support and electronic devices like tablets and laptops.
Going online has been a challenge for the education system in Ireland during Covid-19. It’s still unclear whether online teaching can compensate for the experience obtained in traditional classrooms. If everything goes as planned, schools will reopen, and students will partly return to colleges and universities in fall 2020.
Have you or your family got any experience of online education in Covid-19 Ireland? Are you looking forward to schools and universities reopening?