Around the world COVID-19 continues to cause disruption to people’s way of life, anxiety, sickness and unfortunately deaths continue.
It has been estimated that 90% of young people, some 1.5 Billion, have had their education disrupted so far. Universities across are dealing with recurrent outbreaks and large numbers of are students in self-isolation. Schools in the United Kingdom are having to operate under strict precautions.
Due to your efforts; the Manx public, our schools have managed to operate normally since they reopened in September. Today pupils look forward to half-term next week and we have a chance to pause and reflect on what we have been through.
This week the Department for Education, Sport and Culture published a review into the provision of remote learning so far. I am grateful for all those teachers and school leaders who contributed to this and the parents and pupils who provided feedback.
In March our schools needed to close quickly, and a hub model was quickly established for vulnerable children and those of key workers. Learning and teaching quickly switched from the classroom to the living room as parents adapted to often working from home as well as supervising their children.
We have gone through the biggest disruption to education in our lifetime and I am proud of the way that teachers, school staff, parents and pupils responded and adapted to a rapidly changing and uncertain situation.
The review shows that in March 74% of teachers were able to provide remote learning immediately and over 69% of parents and pupils agreed. Issues were encountered around the timing and volume of work provided and the extent of feedback received.
Now is the time for us to reflect on what has happened and build a more resilient remote learning system for any future challenges we might have to face.
The review makes 10 recommendations. These cover areas such as communication with parents, platforms for remote learning, feedback to pupils, staff training and development and the volume and quality of remote learning required.
We are setting up a team of remote learning experts, using some of the excellent teachers we have on our island to support schools and further develop new ideas. We must seize this opportunity to establish technology as an intrinsic part of learning. By using the lessons we have learnt we can expand teaching, support students unable to attend school for whatever reason and enrich classroom lessons.
The review identified that 16% of families did not have access to online learning. At the start of the lockdown schools lent out IPads to those students who needed them, but we can do better.
I am very grateful to the Scheinberg Relief Fund who have sponsored a new programme to support students who will be sitting A-levels and GCSEs next year.
Teaches are identifying those who may be digitally disadvantaged and they will be loaned a laptop with internet access. We will support them through the next academic year to use technology to enrich their learning and monitor their progress. It was always important for us that with the health emergency no one was left behind. We now have the opportunity to try and ensure that everyone is able to meet their full potential.
Last month saw Manx students head to Universities across for the first time or to resume their studies. Students also returned to UCM where an increased range of courses has given a real opportunity for more to enter higher education and gain valuable life skills.
The health situation across is concerning and the Council of Ministers is monitoring it very carefully. Some students have already returned home and have safely quarantined. The education service is in regular contact with universities across and has correlated where our students are based and when they may be expected to come home.
This week we are contacting all registered students to ask them when or if they may be returning so that we can plan for this and ensure that they, their families and our community are kept safe.
Local lock-downs are being declared on a daily basis in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The Chief Minister has established close relationships with the Northern mayors and when our young people want to come home we will do everything possible to make sure they can.
Government is already looking at how we can use the spare capacity in the hospitality sector to accommodate those who cannot self-isolate safely at home.
Our pupils, students and young people are our future. They didn’t ask for this pandemic and have been directly affected by it. Their studies, mental health and general wellbeing have all been attacked. As a Government and community we need to support them and ensure that they can make the best use of the opportunities available and succeed in reaching their true potential.