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Teachers believe remote learning has led some students to disengage



More than 90 per cent of secondary school teachers say some students have disengaged as a result of the move to remote teaching and learning, according to a new survey.

The findings are contained in a poll of more than 1,000 Teachers’ Union of Ireland members, which was carried out last month.

The survey indicates the vast majority of teachers (76 per cent) believe remote learning had a disproportionately negative effect on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while a similar proportion believe additional supports are needed for 2021-2022 to assist those students who have lost out most.

On a more positive note, most teachers (75 per cent) say student engagement with remote learning was better in 2021 than in 2020.

Most also agree that preparation, provision and associated work involved in providing classes remotely took much more time than face-to-face delivery.

The long-standing issue of pay discrimination has also emerged as a concern given that recession-era pay cuts have not yet been fully restored. A significant proportion (29 per cent) said they did not believe they would be in the profession in 10 years’ time.

However, if pay discrimination were to be fully resolved, 74 per cent believed they would still be in the profession in a decade.

TUI president Martin Marjoram said that although progress had been made in tackling pay inequality, there was still an €80,000 loss in career earnings, with the largest differences in salary in the early years of employment.

Digital divide

Separately, the gulf in access among pupils to digital devices will be a key issue of debate at the annual congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.

The union’s president, Mary Magner, will warn delegates on Tuesday that Irish primary schools are lagging behind our EU neighbours in investing in digital technology to support teaching and learning.

She will highlight countries including Austria, Switzerland and Norway, where about 95 per cent of students have a personal laptop to use for their homework.

“Too many times during this crisis when our schools were forced to close, did it become apparent that too many families did not have adequate access to digital technology in their homes,” she will tell delegates.

“As we look forward to the rollout of the renewed curriculum later in this decade, the digital agenda must be at the heart of 21st-century Irish primary education.”

Minister for Education Norma Foley has announced the development of a new €200 million digital strategy for schools between now and 2027.

It aims to embed digital technology in teaching, learning and assessment and will take into account the “challenges that have arisen” in recent times.

She has asked anyone with an interest in the area to take part in a new consultation process to help build a “robust and exciting” strategy.

Although access to the Covid-19 vaccine is expected to dominate the annual conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), there will be a focus on debates about the Leaving Cert as well as on other issues that could have significant industrial relations implications such as pensions and pay for student teachers.

The highest priority motion for the ASTI conference calls for depth of treatment and range of subject knowledge to be included in the design template of all future Leaving Certificate specifications, including those currently under development.

The ASTI will also hear calls for a return to the pre-2004 public service pension scheme for all teachers, which would include the right to retire at 60.

Third-level funding

Separately, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris is expected to tell TUI delegates that the issue of the future funding of further and third-level education will be dealt with by the current administration.

He will say that, while investment levels have increased, “it is not where it needs to be”.

He is expected to tell delegates the Government will act on the findings of a new report on future funding in the next few months.

It is understood he will tell teachers he wants to see a number of rapid Covid-19 testing pilots across the third-level sector as another weapon in the armoury to allow for greater on-site attendance in the next academic year.

He is also expected to give a commitment to a programme of investment in new technological universities, including expansion of campuses in Waterford.

It is understood he recently received a report from the Higher Education Authority regarding the merger of Athlone IT and Limerick IT, which will be considered in the days ahead.

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe



Ireland is running low on loopers. If we don’t watch out, we could emerge from the pandemic with our reputation for wildness completely shredded. We are in danger of being exposed as the sanest people in Europe.

Vaccines go into the arm, but also into the brain. They are a kind of probe sent into the national consciousness. In Ireland’s case, the probe has discovered exciting evidence of intelligent life.

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six



According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 

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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture



Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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