2020 started much like any other year. It was the beginning of a new decade and anyone who was hoping that 2020 would bring some change to the world, certainly got their wish!
In education, the usual routines were in place, mocks and CAO applications dominated the first few months. TY’s classes were looking forward to mid-term activities and while there were rumblings of a virus in China, nobody was too concerned.
March 12th was a Thursday, so I was in Tralee doing Hummingbird. I had arranged to meet a pal for a coffee in a hotel lobby. The TV was on and then Leo Varadkar appeared to make his statement. It was a scene reminiscent of the Hunger Games because everyone, staff & customer alike, stopped what they were doing and turned to watch the TV. Nobody spoke as Leo announced that the schools were closing as of that evening and since then, school life has changed utterly.
First the oral examinations were cancelled with everyone to get 100%, but the written exams were definitely going to go ahead. The schools closed until after Easter but only reopened online. This led to difficulties for parents who now had to teach at home, many with poor broadband and needing to share a device between their children. Teachers had to learn and adapt to a remote environment with minimal supports. The Primary School assessment tests were cancelled.
The State exams were postponed until the end of July but there was huge uncertainty around whether they would ever go ahead. Finally, it was announced that the exams were cancelled and that the Leaving Cert results would be based on a new Calculated Grades system. This meant that for the first time, teachers would grade their own students for the Leaving Cert.
The time needed to roll out the new system meant that the Leaving Cert results came out in September – after the schools reopened. A new reality dawned, with bubbles and pods, staggered breaks, one-way systems, doors and windows wide open in all weather and hand sanitiser everywhere.
Huge credit is due to teachers and support staff as the incidences of transmission in schools remains low.
Colleges switched to remote learning, with only labs and other essential lectures being held on campus. Examinations have had to be held online with many now being open book exams.
Time honoured rites of passage fell victim to the lockdown restrictions. Debs were cancelled, exam results were emailed rather than collected. Graduations were held virtually. The schools did a great job, but the virtual grads were never going to match the real thing. Sixth Class and Sixth Year students were deprived of their last days in school. College students finished their university days with a whimper rather than a bang. While perhaps in the future reunions may be held, it is unlikely that the entire class / year will be able to attend.
But while 2020 brought a lot of difficulties and disappointments, there have been positive learnings too. The importance of socialising with friends and regular exercise for students of all ages has been recognised as being as important as academic achievement. The need for good broadband and access to devices for all students has resulted in grants being made available.
Staggered breaktimes have worked in schools with many teachers saying that it might stay that way in the future. The scepticism around distance and online learning has been banished, with all college courses now engaging with students over the internet. The need for structured continual assessment in secondary school has been established and the taboo of teachers grading their students has been broken.
Hummingbird Learning Centre wasn’t immune to the changes either. 2020 forced me to adapt our Hummingbird Programs. I am now working with students of all ages from all over the country with the magic of the internet. And it is wonderful!! Hopefully next up will be international clients in 2021.
2020 was some year for education and I think 2021 will bring some more changes – mostly for the better.
Wishing you all an incredibly happy and safe Christmas. See you in 2021.
For more information on our Programs contact Elaine on 087 2996054