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Students and teachers protest as Ireland opens language schools

As Irish language schools were permitted to open their doors for in-person teaching on 19 July, a small group of teachers and students marched to the Department of Education, calling the move “dangerous and reckless” and demanding that schools remain teaching online until all students have been vaccinated. 

Some language schools appear to agree. David Russell, chair of the Progressive College Network (PCN) whose members are reported to enrol some 5,000 students, told the Irish Times that a survey of all 28 PCN teachers found just two had been vaccinated, while a survey of 179 students found  only 15% had received both jabs. 

“Safety is our primary concern here,” he explained. “These students are studying, but they’re also working in hospitality, in care homes and in hospitals and unfortunately some are living in overcrowded conditions.”

The Irish government’s decision to allow face-to-face teaching is entirely at the discretion of individual schools, which can opt to remain closed or operate online only. 

The option of resuming in person courses is designed “exclusively to cater for the needs of the existing cohort of… students” currently in the country, according to a statement from the Department of Higher Education. The department is clear that there is “no basis for the recruitment of new international students”, even though easing of travel restrictions means that EU citizens with Covid certificates and fully vaccinated travellers from some non-EU countries will now  be allowed to enter Ireland. 

A large majority of the existing cohort are on so-called ‘Stamp Two visas’, which allow students from some non- EU countries to work 20 hours a week while attending a full-time language course. Since the beginning of the pandemic all classes have been online, meaning many students have now moved to take up jobs outside Dublin, according to Fiachra Ó Luain, labour rights officer of the English Language Student’s Union of Ireland. Schools should remain teaching online at least until September, when most students will have been vaccinates, Ó Luain said. 

Image courtesy of Mark Dakt
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Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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