Star comment: Action needed to help youngsters

Youngsters have suffered more than most during the pandemic.

Kids in the classroom.
Kids in the classroom.

While some schools have managed to avoid lost progress, most have not.

Even those that have maintained academic standards would admit that the social life of their school has fallen a long way behind. Humanities, arts and sport are, at best, lost in the slipstream.

In academic terms, 2020 was a disaster. The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson made U-turns and was caught short. More was expected of him.

Nonetheless, not all fault can be laid at his door. He was one of many trying to act of events that were developing rapidly. We are living through a once-in-a-century disaster that inevitably leads to issues across all sectors of society and few have been unaffected.

Life forever creates challenges. It is not the issue of whether or not each of us might struggle; it is what we do when challenges present themselves. That is what counts. And Mr Williamson and his Department now have to step up to the plate and make provision for youngsters. Those who have fallen behind through no fault of their own must be given the opportunity to catch up.

There is considerable good will in our schools and teachers and ancillary staff have worked hard in testing circumstances. They have put themselves on the line, risking their health and wellbeing, spending long hours learning new IT skills and creating online learning packages to assist pupils. They cannot be expected to do much more. The issue is so substantial that it requires State intervention.

There are huge numbers of children who rely on school alone for their learning, not to mention a considerable cohort who find themselves in digital poverty and cannot afford provisions that are now considered essential. The have-nots are the ones that will miss out and are in danger of having the rest of their lives affected. This is an issue the Government must aggressively tackle – proper tutoring programmes, longer school days, summer schools – anything that will help. Words and promises are fine but action is what is needed right now.

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