Concerns raised about Government proposals to fully re-open English Language Schools in Ireland
Following the outbreak of Covid-19 in Ireland earlier this year. English language schools in Ireland along with other businesses and educational institutions were closed. By and large they have remained closed continuing the education for students through online portals. The ELT sector in Ireland as with many other sectors has suffered considerable loss, especially as this form of education is centered on students travelling in from outside the country for education.
Under current Government rules, students from outside the European Union in particular require the grant of a limited Visa (a stamp 2 Visa) to attend. To obtain this visa and to come to Ireland to study English, students must enroll for an English language course that is listed on currently the Interim List of Eligible Programmes, the ILEP. This is a list of courses offered by approved English language schools whom have applied to the Irish Government to have their courses listed. The English Language Schools in turn must adhere to a comprehensive set of regulations concerning the operation of their schools.
A fundamental tenet of the regulation for ILEP listed schools was the face to face delivery of education in class sizes of no more than 15 and between specific daily hours. The course duration must be 26 weeks in length. With the outbreak of Covid-19 coronavirus in Ireland and the lockdown that followed education was no longer possible according to the regulation. In an effort to continue the education of students, colleges, particularly those of the Progressive College Network quickly adapted to a model of online delivery of education. Whilst other higher education colleges opened in August, a number of colleges have elected to continue with online education in the interests of protecting students, teachers and to curb the spread of the virus.
Concerns have now been raised by a number of schools about the insistence of the Irish Government to fully-re-open schools including in particular the full re-integration of face to face lessons and within the current permitted teaching hours of 9.00am to 5.00pm. Representative bodies of English language schools in Ireland, such as the PCN have made a number of proposals including a blended learning model so that social distancing can be preserved with more effectiveness. In this particular proposal classes would be divided into two pods and students alternate attendance weekly betweeen face to face education and online for each pod or class. So far this proposal has not been accepted by the newly formed Department of Higher Education and or the Department of Justice, who issue the visas to students. The Department of Justice has gone so far as to suggest that visas will not be granted to students who wish to attended colleges and whose classrooms are not fully opened.
The prospect then remains of the attendance of significant numbers of students onto the campus of English language schools within the same hours of education. This is not seen by the industry as practical, acheivable or satisfactory to curb the spread of the covid-19 virus in Ireland.
The Industry therefore awaits the outcome of the current consultation process with the Government and the revised roadmap to be issued tomorrow.