Another time for choosing: What’s next for the Republican Party?

Another time for choosing: What’s next for the Republican Party?

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Another time for choosing: What’s next for the Republican Party?

Donald Trump and Sarah Palin
Sean Creagh

28th April 2021

 

 

It’s January 20th 2016 and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is holding a campaign rally in Iowa. On-stage with him is Sarah Palin, giving her long anticipated endorsement. Palin, the former Vice-Presidential Republican candidate of the ’08 election, shouts into the microphone at full volume: [Trump] is from the private sector; not a politician… can I get a hallelujah?!

 

“Hallelujah!” the crowd shouts back to her, erupting into mass applause. Trump stands a few feet behind Palin, slightly awkwardly and with a tepid smile. The imagery of both Palin and Trump standing next to each other is iconic, not only because it is a rare instance of the two most influential Tea Party figures meeting together, but because both figures are widely regarded as what became a clean break from the old GOP (Grand Old Party) of George W. Bush and an end to the era of “compassionate conservatism”.

 

So how did we get here? Who is the next figurehead of the Republican Party? These are the questions most republicans are likely to be asking themselves now. But one thing is clear; the fiscally conservative GOP of the early 2000’s and newer, more radically populist MAGA heads (Make America Great Again) do not mix well. In fact, they cannot even co-exist. Not out of stubbornness, but because both sides are too different and inherently at odds with each other. One believes in lowering taxes, the other believes wholeheartedly that Hillary Clinton is a lizard person. One voter is a Wall Street banker, another is a deranged patriot in Viking horns and face paint who believes storming the Capitol will overturn election results. Its dysfunctional family dynamics at their best.

 

Uncoincidentally, many members of the declining Bush-wing of the Republican Party have decided to step out of the limelight and retire in the aftermath of the January riots. These include senator of Missouri Roy Blunt, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Richard Burr of North Carolina, among others. Even Jimmy Gurulé, who was Under-Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said that the Republican Party he knew “no longer exists,” and what remains in its place is simply “the cult of Trump.” Other Bush-era members who have apprehensively chosen to stay, generally veer from directly criticising the former president out of fear for drawing his ire; despite the various muzzles placed on his social media accounts.

 

Most of these elected officials will be replaced by the likes of US representative Matt Gaetz and congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, both political newbies who have gotten their upstarts by riding the Trump wave of promoting conspiracies and falsehoods to gain votes. Whilst Taylor has already been expelled by congress for claiming that various school shootings and 9/11 were both staged, Gaetz remains: albeit, with a major sex trafficking scandal surrounding him. Most crucially, however, the support for these two candidates among their base does not seem to have dissipated. Taylor herself generated over $3.2 million in donations during her first three months in office, which is no small feat.

 

 
 

“In a now famous autopsy of Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama, in hopes of denying the 44th President a second term, analysts for the Republican National Convention argued that the party had to expand its appeal to people of colour if it hoped to be competitive in future national elections.”

It appears since then, however, that the party has gone in the complete opposite direction; Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP in 2016 and solidification of Nixon’s southern strategy. Today, the Republican electorate is whiter and more male by far than its Democratic counterpart at a whopping 81%. 

 

However, on analysis of US demographics, it appears this may be a damning strategy. America is progressively becoming “less-white”, and whilst Trump may have been able to point the sail in the right direction temporarily in 2016, he is sailing aboard the Titanic. If republicans continue down this uncertain road, campaigning for QAnon and conspiracy over trickle-down economics, they may continue to drive themselves into the ugly pit of irrelevancy. The same way the Whigs, the Federalists, the Democratic-Republicans, the American Party, all became redundant in the sign of changing times, this fate now seems more possible than ever for the current GOP. 

 

In the face of becoming the white man’s party, the GOP has resorted to relying on methods such as gerrymandering and voter suppression that will enable it to wield power even from a minority position. These include two state bills in Georgia which would drastically limit early voting both in person and by mail, whilst also continuing their progression on closing polling stations: most of these in predominantly black areas. In a state with rapidly changing demographics, elected republican officials seem okay with the idea that they are an antagonistic party towards the health of democracy. 

 

As of right now, it’s hard to imagine the future of the Republican Party as being anything but bleak. Its hell-bent nature on turning back the clock and “making it great again” may prove futile in the long run. However, for now, we can only hope not to remind ourselves of the fact that there are still many Trumps to go around, and that “Trumpism” is still very much alive with voters. But if the GOP can take one lesson from the democratic playbook, it should come from the words of Kennedy himself: “That those who look only to the past, are certain to miss the future”. Perhaps if republicans on both sides did not spend so much time looking in the rear-view mirror, they would realise that they are about to crash into impending traffic. Full steam ahead, cap’n. 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Alex Hanson on Flickr

 

 

Sink or swim? Examining the efficiency of the Egypt’s Suez Canal

Sink or swim? Examining the efficiency of the Egypt’s Suez Canal

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Sink or swim? Examining the efficiency of Egypt’s Suez Canal

container ships
Emily Murphy

10th April 2021

 

On March 29th 2021, it was reported that after six days the ‘Ever Given’ had been freed from Egypt’s Suez Canal. Due to extreme weather conditions, the cargo ship became lodged and blocked the shipping lane. Despite the plethora of memes and the widespread amusement of the event, this posed an enormous threat to the global economy and has forced us to question the resilience of our international trading routes.

 

On Tuesday 23rd the Ever Given, a ship owned by the transport company Evergreen ran aground in the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most critical shipping channels. The vessel, travelling from China, which is 400-meters long, or the length of the Eiffel Tower, was carrying 20,000 containers, each of which can weigh up to 70,000 lbs. This blocking of the canal caused a backup of 369 ships destined to transit the waterways. The Suez Canal is incredibly important for the global economy and shipping with roughly 12% of the world trade passing through the choke point per day, including 10% of the world’s oil in 3 million barrels per day. Experts say that 9.6 billion dollars of trade was backed up in the Suez Canal itself or on either side in the Red and the Mediterranean Sea. At least thirteen of the ships waiting to move through the Suez Canal were carrying livestock, including the Nabolsi, which left Colombia on March 6th and was halted at the mouth of the canal. In a statement, Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture said that three veterinary teams were sent to examine the animals on board the ships and to provide fodder if needed.

 

The Ever Given has now been freed and tugged to the Great Bitter Lake for inspection. This has allowed traffic to resume through the waterway. This does not however mean that shipping can return to normal immediately. The 369 ships waiting to move through the canal include oil tankers, cargo ships and liquefied natural gas vessels. With only 100 ships being able to pass through the canal each day, according to the Suez Canal Authority, it took three days to clear the backlog and the effects of this may be felt for months. The Ever Given has only increased the strain on an already fragile system. Due to the pandemic, there have been additional delays on the delivery of products due to customs and contagion concerns. With factories around the world waiting on essential components from ships in the canal before they can dispatch their products, these hold-ups will only increase. The delay will also undoubtedly cause oil and gas prices to spike.

 

“The blocking of the canal has raised questions about the efficiency of the route. The 193km long canal was constructed between 1859 and 1869, to connect both seas on either side and to shorten the distance between Asia and Europe. Since its opening, traffic through the canal has only increased, with cargo ships increasing in size by approximately 1,500 percent. This is making navigation through the high-traffic bottleneck increasingly difficult.”

A conversation has recently been revived about alternative routes and one suggestion is to traffic ships around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. This is an issue for multiple reasons, the extended journey time will slow down the supply chain and create a lag in products reaching consumers adding additional expense to the couriers which will be pushed along the distribution channel. There is also the potential risk of ships being attacked by pirates, which has at times resulted in hijacking and the deaths of crew members. The melting ice in the Arctic has led to the suggestion of a Northern passage, which Russia has been pushing for years. Moscow is planning on using the route to export oil and gas to markets in Asia, and the Russian weather service has said that in a few years the route will be essentially ice-free in the summer months.

 

It seems that no matter how the issues highlighted by the blockage are resolved, we will be continuing to discuss the efficiency of the Suez Canal for years to come.

 

 

Featured photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

 

Feudalism in the age of Corona

Feudalism in the age of Corona

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Feudalism in the age of Corona

shut-down high street
Elizabeth Quinn

30th March 2021

 

Back in 2014, Thomas Piketty proposed that our current global economic system is on a path towards a return to feudalism. His main argument suggested that in an economy where the rate of return on capital is higher than the rate of growth, inherited wealth will always grow faster than earned wealth. If there is slow GDP growth, but high returns on capital, the wealth earned through labour will always be exceeded by inherited wealth. The main point of this being that capitalism, working normally, will generate quite large inequalities that will grow perpetually. To cut through the economic jibber jabber, on average, if you have a rich Daddy that invests his money (capital) and gets returns on that of 5% a year, you will always be richer (through inheritance) than someone that works in an economy with a GDP growth rate of under 5%. The way the global economic system is set up at the moment means that if you are outside of the top 1-5%, ‘pulling yourself up by the bootstraps’ is becoming to look more impossible as time goes on.

 

To take a moderate position, you could argue that inequality (in some senses) is good. It drives competition, which is a motivator for hard work, innovation and industriousness. That’s all well and good when there is a relatively equal playing field, like we saw in the mid-20th century up until the millennium. Over that period, we saw (in the Global North anyways) increased equality, real wage growth and improved education levels. But the modern landscape is a different kettle of fish. Following the great recession, we’ve seen over a decade of austerity, which we know hit the low to middle classes badly and left most of the rich relatively unscathed or even richer than before. This was paired with the growing power of financial markets, reduced public spending and financial regulation, the erosion of labour organising and real wage stagnation for the average Jane.

 

To illustrate the recent turn of capitalism, let’s take the position of rich Daddy. If I’m looking to make a bob or two on the large amount of money I already own, I’ll take a look around and see that the majority of people do not have that much extra money to spend. It’d be a waste of time for me to create a new product or service because the profits I can make back are limited by the amount of cash the people I want to sell to have. Instead, I’ll call up my old school mate that works in a private equity firm to invest my money in financial markets to give me more bang for my buck and potentially exponential profits. All the cash that I make from the money markets go into my back pocket, and I might call another of my schoolmates to get his accounting firm to stop the government getting their greedy hands into my wallet.

 

“The pandemic has highlighted just how bleak the situation really is. We saw a shut-down of most of the ‘real economy’ during lockdowns yet financial markets were still growing. The pandemic has seen one of the biggest transfers of wealth from the 99% to the 1% in recent history.”

 

So, where does that leave us? Rich Daddy and all of his old school chums aren’t putting money into what we’d call the ‘real economy’, productive goods and services that benefit people and can raise taxes for public services. The idyllic vision of free-market capitalism as pushing towards egalitarianism and technological innovation for the good of all has fallen by the wayside to a system that is more akin to feudalism than capitalism. Wealth and social inequalities are growing both between and within countries. Public services are being replaced by private ones. Real wages have been steadily decreasing. The richest one percent’s wealth is growing exponentially, increasing both their economic and political power. The aristocracy is back baby.

 

The pandemic has highlighted just how bleak the situation really is. We saw a shut-down of most of the ‘real economy’ during lockdowns yet financial markets were still growing. The pandemic has seen one of the biggest transfers of wealth from the 99% to the 1% in recent history. State money, generated primarily from austerity measures and taxing income, small to medium enterprises and the tiny fraction they can grab from multinationals before they ship their money to the Bahamas, is being used to pump more money into these financial markets to keep them afloat through Quantitative Easing (sounds a bit like 2009 all over again). An Oxfam report saw that the worlds 10 richest men increased their wealth by half a trillion US dollars over the pandemic. Amazon made enough profit (NOT revenue) to vaccinate the entire world 3 times over during a period where most people are struggling to get by. The ‘hazard pay’ given to the arbitrarily defined ‘essential workers’ of Amazon equated to a tiny fraction of the profits they made off, let’s not beat around the bush, the deaths of their underpaid and overworked employees.

 

To paraphrase Ha Joon Chang, 99% of economics is common sense made complicated. You don’t have to have a PhD in economics to understand what’s going on. Capitalism needs compound growthto sustain itself. This growth isn’t coming from the ‘real economy’ anymore. It’s coming from financial markets that don’t really generate any significant benefit to the average person and make the rich richer. Whether you’re a libertarian Elon Musk fetishiser or a lefty eco-socialist living in a commune, the fact of the matter is our economic system, in its current manifestation, isn’t working for us. The microcosm of wealth transfers during COVID 19 has only served to highlight these obscene inequalities further. The thing about this is that it’s not an issue that Bill Gates and the Davos crew (the modern-day aristocracy) will solve with their philanthropic endeavours and the ‘Great Reset’. It’s a structural issue that is designed, perpetuated and reinforced by those very same people. The solution to the crisis, as has been the case throughout history, will come from the grassroots collective action of normal people; to think otherwise is a fallacy.

 

Further reading:

Tomas Pikkety: Capital in the 21st Century (2014)
Anand Giridharadas: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World (2018)
Yanis Varoufakis: Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present (2020)

 

 

Photo by Dyana Wing So on Unsplash

 

Coláiste Dhúlaigh series: Young people and covid-19, are we to blame?

Coláiste Dhúlaigh series: Young people and covid-19, are we to blame?

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Coláiste Dhúlaigh series: Young people and covid-19, are we to blame?

bring back our girls protest in nyc
Elizabeth Quinn

26th March 2021

 

This series is in collaboration with first-year Investigate Journalism students in Coláiste Dhúlaigh CFE

 

Stereotype/blame

The last thing anyone wants to hear is that they are to blame for a global pandemic. For young people, we hear this regularly.

 

Between the media hounding us, to boomers tutting and shaking their heads while walking past, the stereotype is everywhere. Dr. Ronan Glynn, chief medical officer, acknowledged this before we re-entered phase 5 in October. He said: “Ireland has developed a “blame culture” which is now focused on young people.”

 

One reason for this is the public growing “tired and fatigued” of the pandemic. The result of this has led to finger pointing, with no real knowledge of the reality surrounding them.

 

What’s caught my attention, is that while these older people are pointing fingers, they’re rarely innocent themselves. I have experienced those cussing out a neighbor throwing a seventeenth birthday “party” of eight friends, yet organizing a communion “get-together” for thirty people in their back garden.

 

When cases began to spike during late August, Dublin consultant Laura Durcan spoke on this during RTE’s Today show with Claire Byrne. She said: “We need to think about brunches, lunches, dinner parties and communions too. We have to be able to personalise the message and modify our behaviour.”

 

On a separate interview on the Today show, minister for Health Simon Harris contrasted video footage released of a group of young people drinking and partying in the streets of Killarney, Co. Kerry, with the “Golfgate” scandal involving past and present members of parliament. Goflgate is the name given to the two-day event held by the Oireachtas Golf Society, and attended in the Station House Hotel in Clifden. 82 people partook in the event, involving top politicians. These included Minister for Agriculture, Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary, Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe and EU Commissioner Phil Hogan.

 

This event took place the day after new restrictions were put in place late August, stating that no more than six people allowed to gather indoors, and 15 outdoors.

 

“There were no students in Clifden.” Said the Minister, when comparing the different age groups, and said there will always be people “who do stupid things.”

 

Restriction Breakers/Anti-Mask

As of time of writing in October 2020, the Covid-19 case figures categorized by age from the month previous were as followed:

 

Covid-19 Cases – September 2020 – CSO

 

15 – 24: 2,008

 

25 – 44: 2,820

 

45-64: 1,976

 

Evidently, the virus is spreading amongst young people. And like Minister Simon Harris said, there will always be people who “do stupid things”, but these people could be young or old. So if young people aren’t to blame, the question is: where are these high figures coming from?

 

On 2 November 2020, I contacted An Garda Siochana to ask a representative to speak to me about what the situation has been like regarding dealing with complaints over young people breaking restrictions. They said: “It’s safe to say, the Irish Public and young people have been highly compliant during the restrictions. This has stayed consistent over the past number of months.”

“Throughout the Covid response Gardai have used the 4E’s approach of engage, educate and encourage, and only where provided for and as a last resort, enforcement.”

 

A group of people who openly don’t support the government guidelines are commonly known as “anti-maskers”. This refers to individuals who do not believe in the benefits for themselves and those around them of wearing fabric face masks to cover their nose and mouth. These people are not refusing to wear them due to being medically exempt – they are either in denial of the virus, want to feel “in control” of what they do, or are filled with conspiracy theories about the government.

 

Whatever the reason, many of these people are angry about it. Their anger has driven them to a point of mass anti-mask protests, with thousands attending. These protests include banners expressing their beliefs (some photographed include “COVID-19 HOAX” and “NO TO MASKS; NO TO SOCIAL DISTANCING; NO TO COVID TESTING; NO TO COVID VACCINE; YES TO LIFE!”). These protests don’t include the wearing of face-masks or standing 6 feet apart.

 

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend cloth masks for the general public, and most people have become accustomed to wearing one. Your face and mouth being uncovered means that the droplets spreading will not be caught within a mask if not wearing one, causing a higher spread of the virus.

 

So how many of these people refusing to take precautions are young people?

 

I contacted two organizations which organize these protests, Yellow Vest Ireland and Health Freedom Ireland. Despite reaching out on multiple occasions for a comment on this, neither of them responded as of time of writing.

 

I turned to video footage of these mass protests to see what I could find. One video I found, dated 12 September 2020, was estimated at having 1,500-2,000 attendants. The protest was organized by Yellow Vest Ireland. Video evidence shows no visible signs of young people participating, apart from children holding their parents hands or babies in strollers, who are too young to have a fully-formed opinion.

 

Schools

When primary and secondary schools reopened this year late August/early September, after being closed nationwide since March 13th, this was a major cause for concern regarding case spikes.

 

Safety precautions were put in place for the return of students. For secondary schools, these include:

 

  • Face coverings to be worn at all times
  • Students sitting at socially distanced desks
  • Desks to be sanitized before and after use
  • No lockers or indoor canteens in use.
  • Increased ventilation (windows must be kept open at all times)

 

As cases began to spike during September, leading to the closure of restaurants and pubs serving food for the second time, people began to question where these cases were coming from. A section for school outbreaks is not included in the daily figures.

 

I sourced these statistics from Martina Broe, who runs a Twitter account dedicated to providing parents with information . These have been approved by the HSE. As of time of writing (30 November 2020) there has been:

 

  • 806 cases in Primary schools, with 478 school impacted (14.8%)
  • 793 cases in Secondary schools, with 378 schools impacted (52.0%)

Young people have no say when it comes to mixing in these situations, apart from students at third level who have majorly carried out their education this year online, apart from those partaking in practical work which requires in-person attendance.

 

I spoke to Aoife McLysaght, the Trinity College Professor of Genetics, who is unhappy that the blame is being cast amongst young people.

 

“As I work in Trinity, I have lots of interaction with that young age group. All of my students, from what I have seen, have been really good regarding complacency. Of course, they wish things didn’t have to be like this. They have been very careful – I work in the science labs, so they have those, but what they do on campus has been brought back to a total minimum.”

 

Over the course of the pandemic, we as a nation have been advised not to take public transport unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is due to:

 

  • Decreased capacity on buses and trains.
  • Lack of frequent sanitization.
  • Essential workers being prioritized in order to get to and from work.

 

According to The Department of Transport, Oxford and Bristol Universities, a government-backed study reveals under a third of those aged 17-20 hold a driving license.

 

The likelihood of young people being able to afford transport of their own, especially with the financial strain lockdown’s have put on the country, is unlikely. Lockdown’s have also led to many job losses, the hospitality sector targeted in particular.

 

The overall minimum cost of learning to drive and getting a 10 year driving license is typically around 690 euro. This does not include any lessons outside of the 12-hour lessons you are required to take, or any insurance premiums which would be necessary if you wanted to drive your own car or a family car.

 

This means that young people are left with no choice but to compromise themselves in less government-abiding conditions by taking public transport when commuting, unless they are at a financial advantage and can afford to learn how to drive.

 

Long term effects for young people

In the illuminating My World Survey, published by UCD and Jigsaw in November 2019, young people were questioned about the parts of their lives that stressed them out to think about the most.

 

Following exams and finance, “the future” was among the top three stress providers for young adults. This was just months before our lives around us would change in all three of these aspects.

 

Due to school closures, the class of 2020 had no “real” leaving cert – only an estimated grade provided by their teachers and approved by the state. This was deemed unfair by many students, as their grades may well have been higher if sitting the exam in June had went ahead. Not to mention the once-in-a-lifetime experiences missed – no “last day”, no graduation, no debs.

 

As mentioned previously, the hospitality sector being impacted has led to financial struggles for young people employed by it. In Northern Ireland, it is estimated that 45% of under-25s have been laid off work since the start of the crisis, compared to 25%-30% for older age groups.

 

Young people’s lifelong dreams have been obliterated by the pandemic. Some had plans of studying abroad this year once finishing their school studies, which now cannot go ahead due to safety measures.

 

I speak for young people when I say, the last thing we want is for this pandemic to continue. We too are being impacted by this. Although we might not take a hit physically, we’re taking it mentally. According to the CSO, people aged 18-34 have the highest rates of those who are nervous, downhearted, depressed and lonely due to the virus. Yet, we all get targeted under the same category of being “selfish“, “inconsiderate” and “putting lives at risk“. Yes, there are people “who do stupid things.” But that statement is applied for anyone, no matter the age.

 

Further Education and Training- What’s happening?

Further Education and Training- What’s happening?

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Further Education and Training- What’s happening?

woman studying
Elizabeth Quinn

22nd March 2021

 

Since the pandemic hit, education settings had to make the quick transition to the digital space where classrooms were replaced with class-zooms. This is easier said than done. In this article, I interviewed two Deputy Principals in Colleges of Further Education settings, Tina Reddin and Siobhan O’Carroll on their experiences from the past year. I also discuss the recent developments in the Further Education and Training sector.

 

Simon Harris, the Minister of Further and Higher Education, described FET as “overlooked and often undervalued” and commonly viewed as “second best”. People can often get caught up in the perceptions of Further Education rather than what it is. Further Education and Training, in a broad sense, are lifelong education options for anyone over the age of 16. FET includes apprenticeships, traineeships, Post Leaving Cert courses (PLC), adult education as well as core literacy and numeracy skills. FET courses are offered at levels ones to six on the National Framework of Qualifications. These programmes and courses are delivered through the Education and Training Board network (ETBI) which is an association established to collectively represent education and training boards and promote their interests. SOLAS is the funding body for Further Education and Training and work together with Irelands 16 ETBs along with industry and State agencies and bodies offering a wide range of options to school leavers, those unemployed and people looking to upskill through PLCs. SOLAS has recently released their strategy for the next four years which identifies the need to increase the visibility of FET options for school leavers. School leavers are repeatedly consumed by the “points race” which puts great pressure on the final two years of school which can result in a strain on mental health and students can end up in a university course that is not right for them. In 2017, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) released figures showing that 1 in 6 third level students drop out in their first year. Correspondingly, data that was collected by SOLAS shows that students who completed a PLC before entering third level had a higher retention rate. Minister Harris just recently announced a revamp of the current CAO entry system in hopes to increase choice, relieve pressure and ease demand on third level colleges. It also aims to change the credit systems for courses so it will be easier for students with a FET certificate to continue their education and earn a degree. Maria Walshe, Director of SOLAS Branding, Communications and FET Strategy Implementation imparts “while not everyone is suited to university, neither will everyone be suited to taking on a FET course. Regardless, being aware of all options on offer is key to those considering life after the Leaving Cert”.

 

Minister Harris states in The National Further Education and Training Strategy that “FET was a lifeline for many during the economic recession, and once again FET will be critical to our post-Covid recovery.” He says, “Now more than ever, FET will support the economy through targeted initiatives, particularly around re-skilling and up-skilling opportunities.” In January, the Minister launched a new online portal that is aimed for people looking to upskill or retrain called The Right Course. This online portal is a clear and simple way to see how people can develop new skills, the supports that are available and what is on offer such as apprenticeships. One of the resources in the portal that has been made free as an additional support to those whose jobs have been impacted by COVID 19 is eCollege. It is a SOLAS funded online training facility that provides a mix of high quality interactive online learning courses. Simon Harris says in relation to The Right Course, “We cannot afford to have untapped talent and we cannot leave any person locked out of society because of a lack of skills. We must ensure our people have access to the skills they need to succeed in life; and Irish business has the people with the skills they need to grow.”

 

“School leavers are repeatedly consumed by the “points race” which puts great pressure on the final two years of school which can result in a strain on mental health and students can end up in a university course that is not right for them.”

 

Andrew Brownlee, CEO of SOLAS, states that despite “the inevitable restrictions on campus gatherings, we’re at a fairly advanced stage of planning to ensure our learners and staff are in a safe environment and this will include ensuring corridor flows, physical distance and a blend of physical and online provision.”

 

I interviewed two Deputy Principals of Further Education colleges on their experiences of online teaching and learning. Tina Reddin, Deputy Principal of Dundrum College of Further Education (DCFE), believed that for them it was very important to take a college wide approach when dealing with online learning to avoid confusion for both students and staff. Fortunately, DCFE is an already tech enabled college that previous to COVID 19 had started blended learning while also offering a range of level 5 and 6 courses involving computer science and technology meaning that staff were familiar with the digital space. Like many other teachers, they felt that summer was lost because of the preparation that was needed before returning in September. Additional training on online teaching was given to staff and online and in person drop-in sessions for students. When asked about the benefits of this experience, Tina expressed that more people were able access the course and that when in person learning was happening that it was in smaller groups. She also stated their want to become a more environmentally friendly campus and that moving online helped this. A big challenge that DCFE is experiencing like other FET settings is the removal of work experience. The work experience module increases confidence and motivation for students, trying to replace this has proven difficult especially with courses where it is a key part such as nursing, childcare, and healthcare. DCFE organises drop-in sessions focused on helping students with finding work experience and has substituted it with an assimilated experience where needed. Tina Reddin also expresses that adult learners are social learners and despite the proactive approach put in by the college to facilitate online learning, it is the social aspect that is very much missed by students.

 

We also heard from Siobhan O’Carroll from Whitehall College of Further Education which is known for creating a lively, friendly, and warm atmosphere, on how they are adjusting and adapting to online life.

 

Siobhan expressed that the return in September was a unique one as the classrooms in the college were not built for social distancing and class groups had to be reduced by half or more. City of Dublin Education and Training Board provided training opportunities for staff and a laptop loan scheme for students which helped. Yet there are various challenges to college online such as finding a quiet space to attend classes; sharing devices within the home; adapting to online classes can be difficult to manage. Siobhan mentioned that teachers have been trying to simulate practical experiences online, one example being the art teachers preparing art packs with materials for students to use at home. She suggests that the key will be finding the right balance of online and in person learning. Siobhan expressed there was difficulty when enforcing rules around mask wearing and social distancing for students but for the most part people have worked together and there has been mutual patience shared between students and staff during this time of dramatic change.

 

It is without a doubt that this year has had its challenges within the FET sector but the teamwork and support between staff and students are also undeniable. The next few years will see positive change in FET despite the difficult year. Minister Simon Harris states “FET now has a vital role in enabling this equality and cohesion to flourish in communities throughout the country, working with the Government to create a fair, inclusive, and equitable Ireland for all.”

 

 

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

 

Covid in schools: Daily data on cases in schools badly needed

Covid in schools: Daily data on cases in schools badly needed

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Coláiste Dhúlaigh Series: Covid in schools- Daily data on cases in schools badly needed

pencils
parisa

19th March 2021

 

This series is in collaboration with first-year Investigate Journalism students in Coláiste Dhúlaigh CFE

 

Lack of daily figures

Since the reopening of the schools in August the daily report released by the HPSC has not included the daily case figures from schools.

 

The daily report lists a number of outbreak locations such as Private House, Hospital, and Workplace but there is no category for the figures from schools.

 

 

parisa

 

The Department of Health did not confirm that cases from schools are being included in the aggregate figures.

 

This begs the question are the figures from schools being included and if so what are the figures being classified as in the daily report.

 

Parent compiled figures

The lack of daily figures have caused parents and teachers to go online for more information about the number of cases in schools. The ‘Alerting parents of outbreaks in schools Ireland’ Facebook group currently has nearly 120,000 members.

 

In this group parents share their fears about the safety of schools as well as any confirmation of outbreaks in their children’s schools.

 

These figures are then compiled and verified before being published daily by Martina Broe on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Broe told me she started compiling the figures because: “help people with vulnerable family members so they could be made aware of cases close to them.”

 

She believes that: “people have to know if they’re near a case.”

 

Broe says: “We receive school messages off school apps and straight from schools, and of course HSE letters.” The figures are then verified before they are published every evening.

 

 

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School data currently available

The HPSC have been publishing weekly data showing the number of open clusters in schools since 12th September. However these figures only give an indication on the number of active breakouts not the number of individual cases.

 

 

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The Department of Health confirmed that they have started publishing weekly testing updates from schools.

 

 

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Lack of information of Covid amongst school staff

While this is a step in the right direction these figures do not show the levels amongst teachers and staff.

 

Many staff who applied for lower risk positions in schools due to health complications had their applications rejected.

 

Teachers unions have expressed their concern about testing amongst staff. INTO felt that there were issues with the time it took to deliver results of testing and contact tracing. “In the last month the turnaround times for both testing and contact tracing have not been adequate, with many school principals struggling to engage with public health authorities, particularly over the weekend.”

 

ASTI also echoed INTO in the need for a: “comprehensive testing programme for schools” as well as rapid testing and turnaround times.

 

Both unions stressed that their members wanted to be in school and believed that keeping schools open was in the best interest of their students.

 

INTO also commented on the need for investment in PPE, sanitary and cleaning products. Despite the current measures there is still concern about the airborne spread of the virus.

 

The current risks in schools

I spoke to John Wenger, Professor of Physical Chemistry at University College Cork, he had previously expressed his concern about the airborne spread of Covid in schools to Newstalk back in August. He told me that: “Although we cannot make schools completely safe, we can minimize the risk of spreading the virus in schools by applying a range of protective measures.”

 

He feels that: “while there is still some risk of transmission in schools, the general view is that this risk is worth taking because school is hugely important for children’s education, mental health and social needs and development.”

 

He thinks schools could do more to reduce the risks by: “making masks mandatory in primary schools and improving ventilation in schools.” As well as introducing a ‘hybrid approach’ where some students would learn and some in class. Thereby reducing the numbers in schools and reducing the risk of transmission.

 

Professor Luke O’Neill, Chair of Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin said he believes the figures that are available show: “the measures seem to be working.”

 

Long term of effects

There are many unknowns about the long term effects of Covid on children. From the lingering effects of the virus to the effects of absences due to Covid on children’s education.

 

In November over 400000 children in the UK were absent due to Covid related issues. In spite of keeping schools open for the sake of children’s education and mental health many children’s educational outcomes could be affected by missing school due to Covid.

 

Studies show that missing just two school days a year can negatively affect educational outcomes.

 

Lack of transparency

If the government is committed to keeping schools open for the benefit of pupils and staff there is a need for more transparency.

 

Last week a primary school, Gaelscoil Uí Drisceoil, in Cork was forced to close for two weeks due to 17 cases in the school. The school was first made aware of an outbreak on November 15th however another case had been detected in the school days before but the school had not been informed.

 

This comes after RTE reported that data shows that schools were the third most likely place to catch Covid.

 

 

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Since August 4th the percentage of Covid cases by age shows a jump in the school age groups (0-4 years, 5-14 years, 15-24 years). The percentage of Covid cases in the 0-4 years, 5-14 years, 15-24 years age groups rose by 1.78, 4.91, and 9.74% respectively. While the percentage of cases of those aged 25+ shrunk by an average of -2.34%.

 

There have been questions about why some age groups have been excluded from a number the 14 days reports.

 

 

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By publishing the weekly testing figures it shows the Government is aware of parents’ and teachers requests for more transparency. However the government needs to do more to inform parents and staff on case numbers.

 

Publishing the daily figures of individual cases within schools, including both staff and pupils, could give parents and teachers full knowledge of the risks and it could allow schools to minimise them as much as possible.

 

I contacted the Minister of Health, Steven Donnelly, the HSE, and the HPSC for clarification on how the figures from schools are being classified in the daily report from the HPSC. However at time of publication I have yet to receive clarification.