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  • THE STUDENT VOICE

COVID-19 AND SCHOOL CLOSURES, Conal O'Boyle, Crana College, Donegal

The 12th of March 2020 is a day which we are likely to never forget. A day in which the Irish government decided to ramp up its efforts to contain the spread of the novel COVID-19 Coronavirus.

It will be a day that students of the time will never forget. In a bid to contain the worst pandemic that the world has ever seen, the Irish government have decided to implement measures to help curb the virus. Most notably and inconveniently, the closure of childcare facilities, primary schools, secondary schools and universities. From the 13th to the 29th of

March, the halls will be silent. Silent, like two weeks ago, during the mid-term break. We couldn’t last two weeks until we were out again For us students, those benefiting (or suffering) at the announcement of a closure, we are stuck at a crossroads. A pros-versus-cons situation.


Yes, it’s essentially two weeks off in which we can dare to test our initiative. No, we are jumping headfirst into the darkness of independent schooling, which IS NOT the same as homework. Yes, we can work at our own pace and not have to ask someone we don’t like if we can go to the bathroom. No, we will have to listen and cooperate with our family members, many of whom we get a well needed break from every day. Yes, we may have to listen to web-seminars from our teachers. No, we can choose not to join them.


But there are a few questions that we have that are less black and white explanatory wise. Upon asking a few friends, questions of a similar nature continued to arise. Will this take a chunk out of our summer holidays? What are the implications of some schools using web-seminars better than others? Does that disable us from doing better come exam time? When are we going to be allowed to go back? Will the college year starting in September be pushed back? When will the actual Leaving Cert happen? Will the use of technology ensure that schools will not have to reopen through the summertime? Why aren’t the politicians in Northern Ireland closing schools in order to limit the threat still posed to border counties and the schools in the region? (And, on that point…) Why aren’t Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland fully cooperating regarding the closure of services all over the island?

And, the most insightful question of them all: Is there any way of my history teacher deleting Google classroom?


Hindsight is wonderful tool, and I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to do Transition Year, as I am not in panic mode as a result of this decision. Had I decided to skip the year, I would be neck deep in unneeded panic and stress, which wouldn’t be something I need, considering I spend most of my time stressing about this or panicking about that, given the nature of my passions.


My brother did not get as lucky as me. A secondary school freshman in 2014, his future looks uncertain as he tries to make up the numbers to get into IADT next year. If anything, he may find himself to be one of few beneficiaries in sixth year all over Ireland. These two weeks to be extremely helpful in order to complete his portfolio in time for the deadline! “Conal, if the weather is okay tomorrow can we film the outside scenes of the film?” No virus would stop Sean’s quest to get to college. Viruses may be more of a debilitating factor in his crusade…


For a lot of us, school won’t be the only thing we will be waving a temporary goodbye to. GAA and soccer clubs, concerts and cultural events, and (for those whom it still concerns) religious ceremonies have had to be either cancelled or put on the long finger. Many of us who will be set back by the postponement of the two-year Leaving Cert cycle are the right age to start playing sports at senior levels.


Although the students are the obvious victims of the cancellation, it’s also worth remembering the people who ensure the students learn in class. Many of these people will also be ensuring that students learn through the aforementioned-web-seminars and innovation provided by Google. Many teachers, including some of my own, have been warning of school closures now for the last few weeks, and I knew that it was getting serious when a teacher of mine, known for her conventional way of teaching, set up a Google classroom for her maths and Irish classes, with the help of her students of course.


Apart from the teachers who are genuinely concerned about student development during the school hiatus, every teacher is also concerned about themselves and their own families, and rightfully so. Teachers are a unique case. They, like restaurant or bar staff, need to be at a certain place from the time in which they start working until the time they finish. However, permanently placed teachers will still receive pay throughout the course of the closure, whereas catering staff are unfortunately not as secure. It will be hard for the teachers who want to ensure the best for their pupils to keep up whilst looking after their own families of young children who are no exception to the closure.

Maybe I can sense better than others, the situation facing teachers and lecturers in the coming weeks. The O’Boyle family is one steeped in history when it comes to educators. My great-grandfather was a teacher, as was my grandfather and a few of his brothers. Even though my grandad hated teaching, the ‘tradition’ seeped through to another generation, to two of my aunts. One in a university, and one teaching Spanish in a secondary school. I am sure that my generation of O’Boyle will see educators in the future also. Hopefully they will not be faced with such a scenario as what we are seeing today.


Another family ‘tradition’ is politics, and through the human qualities I inherit from my father, and his parents before him, I can see most things through a political eye. This is no exception. Yes, I may be a student who will essentially miss out on school time, but also, I am a future legislator, who sees the bigger picture: the need for this closure. I also believe in the idea of only essential services, such as shops and financial institutions remaining open.

We all know that we are living in unprecedented times, and the Green Party, whose mast I proudly pin myself to, yesterday called on all political parties to form a national government in order to see ourselves through this crisis that we face. Although the idea was shunted in a respectful way by the other parties, I do believe that that would be the best way to deal with the crisis that we have been presented with. Of course, I would say that…


As a student, I don’t know how to feel about this situation. As someone who’s enthusiasm for school is waning away by the hour, I am glad to get what is seen to be a break. However, as someone who wants to fight the feeling of exhaustion with more work in the hope of squeezing out better results, I am concerned and confused. As a human being, I am concerned, and I am happy that this seismic measure has been taken in a bid to contain the biggest pandemic in human memory.


Fair play to the government. This time...