Derek BARTER, Maynooth University, IE
An announcement was made by the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) on the morning of 12th March that all schools and higher education institutions would close from 6pm that evening to support efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 (DES, 2020). This was followed over the coming weeks by closure of most sectors of Irish society as “unprecedented actions to respond to an unprecedented emergency” (Doyle, 2020). This paper reflects on our experiences of supporting learners in the context of the Covid pandemic. How has ULLL (University Lifelong Learning) suffered in this new situation and how has it managed to survive? Did we already have models to adopt without even knowing it? Learning to live it: immediate response As we packed our bags and went home on the 12th March, we had to shift immediately into crisis recovery mode, learning how to deliver classes online. The immediate objective was to find ways to enable the students to finish their programmes, adapting to online modes of pedagogy and assessments that students could complete in their new environments. We were sensitive to the fact that students were dealing with real life situations directly impacted by the virus on a personal level (illnesses, becoming full time carers for elderly parents, childcare and new home-schooling responsibilities, teenager and young adults returning home) and many learners were frontline workers in emergency, health and community services. Of benefit was the timing of the shutdown, occurring as it did three quarters into the academic year. Learning groups were well- established and the relationship between students and tutors were also strong. This helped with the move to remote teaching. Learning to live with it: planning for an uncertain future As the academic year now heads to a close and restrictions are due to slowly lift over the summer, we need to plan for next year while we try to cope with a very uncertain future in terms of the direction that the virus will take, what the economy will look like, what teaching will look like, greater levels of precarity amongst students and educators. We are conscious that we need to reflect on what it is that we as adult educators do and crystallise this into the essence of our discipline. Key words that spring to mind are dialogue, problematising, critiquing, reflexivity and action. We will need to find relevance in the changed world. LLL with its focus on solidarity, dialogic and experience-based learning is needed possibly now more than ever. In the aftermath of current Covid 19 crisis, we will need to respond to the psychological scars left across Europe and the globe. The vulnerability of human built systems has been exposed and the unprecedented fears of human contact, not merely of the stranger but also of those close to us will make it vital in re-establishing relationships among a frightened populace. The need to communicate and express our shared experience to create spaces for healing and recovery will be essential in the years to come.
- DES (2020) Covid 19 – Statement from the Department of Education and Skills. Link.
- Doyle, M (2020) Govt announces ‘unprecedented actions’ to respond to ‘unprecedented emergency’, RTE News 25 March 2020. Link.
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