Coronavirus, Education

Coronavirus, Education

Teaching with a mask will be 'tricky' as new term looms

The country's post-primary pupils and teachers are adding face coverings to their list of school supplies for the coming term. Teachers, students and parents reveal how they feel about the changes ahead.

09/08/2020 20:11:00

The country's post-primary pupils and teachers are adding face coverings to their list of school supplies for the coming term. Teachers, students and parents reveal how they feel about the changes ahead.

The country's post-primary pupils and teachers are adding face coverings to their list of school supplies for the coming term. Teachers, students and parents reveal how they feel about the changes ahead.

As well as shopping for uniforms, books and stationery supplies, students will need to have a mask with them.Updated Government guidelines recommend that teachers and pupils at post-primary level to wear face coverings where it is not possible to keep the two metre physical distance.

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Students will also be required to wear face coverings on the school bus.So how will this new Covid-19 guidance affect pupils, teachers and parents? Jamie Dockery teaches English and history at St Nathy’s college in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.

He believes the recommendation to wear a face covering will make things easier. "I don’t know how possible it will be to socially distance. I think it’s a big ask on all schools," he told RTÉ's This Week programme.Like many schools across the country, St Nathy’s has a PE and sports hall but parts of the building are older and pose challenges for social distancing.

Jamie said the school has spent most of the summer planning for the new term in September.And he believes the recommendation for teachers and students to wear masks in situations where two metres' distance is not possible, will ease the minds of some of his older colleagues.

"They might have health issues themselves or be caring for someone at home who has a health issue. They are worried and that is understandable."But teaching a class while wearing a face covering will not be the same."In my own classroom, I very much use my voice and my facial expression and this will make things a little bit tricky. Still, if they tell me I have to wear a mask I will definitely do that," said Mr Dockery. 

How will his English and history students cope with possibly wearing masks for several classes? "That will have to be looked at. As we all know, wearing a mask all day every day is not easy and has its own discomforts."He sees other issues for pupils. "If a student does not have a mask, will it be provided by the school and boxes of masks are not cheap. Who pays for that?

"Will it be the Government, will it be the schools? Some will say that masks are a necessity and have to be paid for - but not everyone will have the ability to do so. It is a challenge that will have to be overcome."Despite such challenges, Jamie Dockery believes it is time to get students back to their classrooms. 

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"I don’t think I have ever looked forward to being back in school as much. My feeling is there are other sections of society, like doctors and nurses, who have done their bit - and part of me feels it is our time now."Some post-primary students in Longford have already been told they will need to bring a mask to school. 

"We got a message from the school that pupils must have a mask and sanitiser. We are all prepared for that by now. We all know this is around us," said the mother of a first year student.It is not just secondary school students who may end up wearing face coverings for parts of the day. Masks are required on school buses, and for primary school children above third class, where social distancing is not possible.

Grace Heavy from Longford is concerned about her primary school daughter."She has very bad asthma and I’d be very worried about her going back in case she catches anything."She takes the bus to school and will have to wear a mask, but it’s hard to get the right sizes for the kids. I’ve been finding it hard to get one."

A Longford-based mother whose secondary-school son is autistic said she has "no idea" how his return to school will work, especially if masks are required. "He understands that there is a need to wear a mask but he can only cope with wearing it for short periods of time before he feels the need to take it off."

One student entering transition year in Longford said she was not looking forward to wearing a face covering. She cited the difference between wearing a mask outdoors, or in a shop, and wearing one for longer periods in school. "It would be very difficult for us when we are learning. It would be very warm in the classroom."

Labour's education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has called on Education Minister Norma Foley to outline whether wearing face coverings in school is a requirement or a recommendation. "Minister Foley also needs to clarify who will provide this PPE.

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"Labour has already called for the Government to provide reusable face masks to each household in the country. This would cost around €60 million but would be money well spent given the importance of face masks in the fight against Covid-19."

Third-level students will also be required to wear masks. Jack Keville from Leitrim believes this is not a big deal. "I would wear one anyway. I am socially conscious  and I think most college-aged people will wear them."

US student Leeannah McNew said wearing a face covering has already become second nature nature to her."I work in an ice cream shop so I’ve been wearing one for a while now. You kind of get used to it." Read more: RTÉ News »

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