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School gates may be shut throughout Co. Tipperary at the moment but the county's secondary schools are harnessing the latest computer technology to continue teaching their students.
But one Clonmel school principal has pointed out that the availability of computer devices and poor broadband connectivity in rural areas are “huge challenges” facing students and teachers as they strive to teach and learn online.
Presentation Secondary School Clonmel is using Microsoft 365 and Teams platform as a means of providing online teaching and learning.
Principal Michael O’Loughlin said all their students have a Microsoft 365 account and had previous experience in using this account as part of the school's digital literacy plan.
“Our focus for the current academic year was training our teachers regards the efficient use of Microsoft 365 & Teams,” he said.
“We were working with Stephen Eustace from Microsoft and Aidan Liston from PDST to help us provide a continuity of learning for students. However, like all schools, the unexpected closure and evolving situation has challenged all partners in education. In the midst of challenging times, our staff have been exceptional in leading learning and support for all students.
Mr O'Loughlin said it was heartening to see many initiatives introduced on the online platform and he praised teachers and students for the way they have adapted and responded.
Presentation Secondary School second year Ada Hennessy and High School Leaving Cert student Jack O'Loughlin are among hundreds of Tipperary students keeping up to date with their school work through online technology.
Ada has been communicating with her teachers through Microsoft Team software Mr O'Loughlin has described.
“Compared to normal school life, at times it can be difficult to motivate yourself when working from home on your own,” she said. “However, my friends and teachers are a great help and everyone is in the same boat. We all are looking forward to returning to school to meet our friends and our teachers.”
Jack O’Loughlin, meanwhile, hopes his year group will have a chance to return to school before the Leaving Cert exams start.
“We are using Goggle Classroom with our teachers. We have daily contact with our teachers and there is also an opportunity for the principal and other staff members to post messages.
“It can be difficult at times to work on your own. I prefer the class contact with the teacher. Also, some of the students are missing the socialising aspect of school. The Leaving Cert is normally a stressful time for students but the present situation has added to the stress. The postponement of the exams and the uncertainty of our project work and practical aspects of our exams and the late July/August date is not helping us either.”
Michael O'Loughlin said while online technology has allowed schools to continue teaching and communicating with students during this crisis, there are still huge challenges for schools, teachers and parents in the use of online teaching and learning.
“For some students access and availability of devices is an issue and for students from rural areas,broadband connectivity is a huge issue,” he explained. Some students are struggling to organise a specific study area in their own home. High unemployment has returned to our shores so finance for phone credit is a problem and there is a genuine worry in households regards the whole Covid-19 situation.
He stressed twhile using online technology during this crisis has helped teachers at the Presentation Secondary School to continue their engagement with students, it will never replace the classroom based teaching and learning.
“Students miss the daily contact with their friends, classmates and teachers. Teachers are missing their students as well.
“We will all look forward to the noise and laughter echoing through our corridors once again. When we return to normal life, we will have a new outlook regards online teaching and learning but we will have even more appreciation of our classrooms and school environment.”
Clonmel's Loreto Secondary School, Coláiste Chluain Meala and Gaelcholáiste Chéitinn students will share their experiences of remote learning in The Nationalist next week.