Ireland closes schools and colleges to combat pandemic

The government announced the measures on March 12 after the total number of cases in the country rose to 70 and the first death linked to the virus was reported. 

“The safety of students and staff is paramount”

David Russell, chairman of PCN an organisation representing eight English language training centres in Ireland – told The PIE News that despite ongoing concern about the financial impact that coronavirus will have, many ELT schools have expressed their support for the measures.

“Obviously the ongoing COVID-19 situation is challenging and worrying for everybody. While the Irish government’s announcement of the closure of schools offers challenges to employers, most people see the rationale behind this step as a reasonable one,” he said.  

Russell added that a temporary closure of school doors, with a view to curbing the spread of the virus, “makes sense”. 

“Having said that, schools are obviously worried about the future and how this whole situation may impact on sales and future trading,” he added. 

Russell explained that the closures impacts company revenue and cash flow, which in turn can have an impact on the ability to maintain staff and pay salaries. 

“Nobody wants to let staff go, this would be a worst-case scenario. I feel it is imperative that the government support employers at this challenging time.”

Rob McComish and Anne-Marie Connolly, company directors at Everest Language School in Dublin, told The PIE they were ‘glad’ when they heard that schools had been ordered to shut. 

Everest has been offering all of its classes online using video conferencing since the evening of March 12. The school has had near full attendance in every class. 

“We have had contingency plans in place as the decision to close the schools was something that we have known was a possibility for the past three weeks so we have been preparing to implement this solution to ensure that our students can continue their lessons,” the directors explained.

“The cooperation of the students and staff has been key in our ability to make the switch to online classes as quickly as has been necessary. Everybody was incredibly understanding,” they added.

Despite Everest having been well prepared, coronavirus has still caused the school problems. 

McComish and Connolly explained that they are already experiencing cancellations from affected areas and are doing their best to keep student numbers up. 

Education agencies too are feeling the financial ripple effect of the closures.

Director of Turkish agency Global Vizyon, Deniz Akar told The PIE  that a number of students have been looking to postpone or cancel their summer programs in Ireland.

“For the time being the flight companies don’t create problems – they either refund the money or give credit for the next flight. The schools are not creating problems – they are okay with the postponement. The problem is some students don’t want to postpone, they want to cancel totally,” he said.

However, changes to bookings for Ireland aren’t throwing up as many problems as some other destinations, Akar continued.

“In Malta, there are not many cases [of coronavirus] but because of the proximity to Italy it is very difficult to convince the students to go,” he added.”Ireland students are quite okay to postpone to May.”

Universities in Ireland have also been closed, with many continuing to operate but online.

Even prior to the government’s announcement, Trinity College Dublin stated that it would be moving all lectures online from March 11.

According to reports, the university which exhibits the world-famous ‘Book of Kells’ could lose at least €3 million following the closure of the exhibition.

“Colleagues across the university have been preparing diligently for this eventuality”

Another Dublin based university, DCU, is starting online delivery of its academic taught programs from March 16, while all first and second-year undergraduate examinations planned for May will be replaced with alternative assessments.

Despite the disruption, DCU president, Brian MacCraith said he welcomed the announcement of the government.

“The safety and well-being of our students and staff have been, and will remain, our priority,” MacCraith said.

“Colleagues across the university have been preparing diligently for this eventuality for a number of weeks and strong contingency plans are in place. 

“We are in a good position to move our teaching and assessment activities online,” he added.

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