Hundreds complain about pandemic education

Hundreds complain about pandemic education

Almost half of all complaints related to the pandemic impact on education, the Ombudsman for Children's annual report says. File picture: RollingNews.ie

Hundreds of people contacted the Ombudsman for Children with complaints about education during the pandemic.

Confusion about remote learning, a lack of clarity about State examinations and calculated grades and the digital divide were among the issues raised.

The details of these complaints are contained in the annual report from the Ombudsman for Children's Office (OCO), set to be issued on Wednesday. It also notes that all of the children who reached out raised the impact of the pandemic on their mental health as a concern.

The report, titled ' 2020 Childhood Paused', shows education made up almost half of the complaints at 46%, slightly down on 49% the year before.

Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon said the high number of  complaints from children is unique in his six years in the role, and that 2020 was 'devastating' for them. File picture: Paul Sherwood 
Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon said the high number of  complaints from children is unique in his six years in the role, and that 2020 was 'devastating' for them. File picture: Paul Sherwood 

The OCO received 1,187 complaints, which actually represented a decline from the previous year, though it is noted that many services which could have provided avenues for complaint were closed due to the pandemic. The OCO also expects to receive more complaints as lockdowns and other restrictions are fully removed.

Complaints from Dublin made up 30% of the contacts, followed by Cork at 14%.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon said the high number of  complaints from children is unique in his six years in the role, and that 2020 was “devastating” for them.

We heard heartbreaking stories of children with additional needs regressing and about the turmoil the uncertainty caused.

“Children were grappling with the digital divide and they worried about parents who had lost their jobs as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy,” he said.

He said the number of children contacting the OCO reflects badly on the Government.

“Many children with parents or siblings who were medically high risk, wrote to us expressing their fears of causing the death of that parent or sibling,” Dr Muldoon said.

“Many were facing into their exam years and had been told by their schools there was nothing they could do to help them if they decided to self-isolate because of a family member.” 

He warned the full scale of domestic violence last year is not yet understood.

“While we were all told to stay at home, it is not always a safe place,” he said 

And we fear that children who were at risk of abuse or neglect and other issues that went under the radar due to school closures will come to the fore this year.” 

He called on the Government to provide a Covid-dividend for children.

“There can be no return to the old normal – where babies learn to crawl in emergency accommodation, teenagers in severe physical pain wait years for scoliosis operations or those in mental turmoil wait years for psychological intervention and where Traveller children are bullied for where they live,” Dr Muldoon said.

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