Donnacha O Treasaigh, Gaelcholaiste Luimnigh principal | PICTURE: Adrian Butler
AS THE director of schools for the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board (LCETB), Donncha O Treasaigh oversees some 12,000 secondary school students.
The Pallasgreen man said they were well prepared for the closures last week. The Limerick schools that Mr O Treasaigh is the director of are Coláiste Chiaráin, Castletroy College, Mungret College, Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh, Thomond Community College, and Coláiste Iósaef in Kilmallock.
“The Department of Education and Skills has been very clear in its statement that all teachers have to report for work, that they are available for teaching and reporting to students. Teachers can still go to the schools, schools will still be open but students won’t be in schools,” stated Mr O Treasaigh.
Online technologies from Google, Microsoft and Apple – depending on the school – will be utilised to the fullest degree. What can parents worried about their children’s education expect?
“In the coming weeks, students can expect to liaise closely with their teachers, in relation to online platforms that exist in schools that can be used.
“So for instance in our own schools we have two platforms, we have Microsoft Office and Microsoft Teams and we also have Google Apps and Google Classroom. For several months now, teachers have been getting intensive tutorials around these platforms and certainly students who have access to technology at home, will not be at too much of a disadvantage. They will be able to stay in touch with our learning.
“Schools are still open to teachers to work on these online platforms together from the delivery of content to the students, it’s just that students cannot attend schools,” said Mr O Treasaigh.
Instead of marching into classrooms at 9am when the bell goes, teenagers will be logging on from home.
“Yes, students log in using their school email accounts. They have access to all of the content and materials and resources that teachers have compiled for them. About two weeks ago we started flagging this with our schools because in fairness to Google, they were already highlighting this about four weeks ago based on their experience in other parts of the world. We started looking at that material about three weeks ago and preparing our schools,” said the former principal of Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh.
Not so long ago if schools had to close the boys and girls were sent home with their books.
“Now there is a far more sophisticated approach which is available in a lot of our schools which will keep students in their learning and engaged. And that means also that there is two-way communication going on between classes and their teachers, and the facility for feedback on students' work.
“It would be online forums as such. The technology is there for online classes and for video conferencing style classes and that may happen or may not happen, depending on if people are sick – if people aren't actually able to video.
“In essence, teachers are able to post content and materials and able to correct content and materials online,” explained Mr O Treasaigh.
The most concerned parents are those with students doing exams.
“There is only eight or nine weeks left of the school year for students of sixth year and third year so at this stage they have a lot of their content and curriculum covered. It’s a case of very, very close and measured focus on the revision materials and sample papers and exam papers and so on,” said Mr O Treasaigh.
He concludes by saying online learning has come in for criticism especially with regards to tablet devices in some areas of the country.
“But this is an example of where technology is able to help students to continue their learning in such a set of exceptional circumstances.
“We in the LCETB promote a blended learning approach where books are used and technology is used and that blended approach has a very appealing and productive outcome for students.”