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5th Jun 2020

Coronavirus

Education in coronavirus times: trial and error

  • The coronavirus offers a unique opportunity to improve education, despite the many inequalities that the crisis reveals (Photo: Pixabay)

The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the school year of millions of students in the bloc, including international students.

For several weeks, most member states have - completely or partially - closed its education centres as part of their national strategies to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

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However, the lack of coordination among member states was evidenced once again during the informal videoconference of EU education ministers on Tuesday (14 April).

While some countries are set to reopen schools in the upcoming weeks, Portugal and Malta announced that schools will be closed until the end of the school year.

Denmark are expected to start reopening some kindergartens and schools from this week, although children should be at home if they were in contact with someone who was ill.

Additionally, Finland recently extended the restrictions on face-to-face teaching until 13 May, while the country is preparing for school closure until the end of the term (30 May 2020).

Meanwhile, primary and lower secondary schools remain open in Sweden since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

However, according to the commissioner for education and culture, Mariya Gabriel, "we need common standards in order to proceed with the next steps".

Differences in e-learning

While many member states faced problems to carry out e-learning at the beginning of the crisis, now most European countries are organising distance instruction.

However, commissioner Gabriel, warned that "not all teachers in the EU have the skills to deliver e-learning, [while] many schools in disadvantaged areas do not have the necessary infrastructure to allow children to succeed in digital education".

According to the director for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Andreas Schleicher, the coronavirus also bring an unique opportunity for new models of education, despite the many inequalities that the crisis reveals.

"We can collaborate internationally to mutualise open online educational resources and digital learning platforms and encourage technology companies to join this effort and we can use the momentum to reshape curricula and learning environments to the needs of the 21st century," he said.

Estonia, the leading country in Europe on education, decided earlier this year to share several tools to support other countries' education systems.

However, Blaženka Divjak, the minister for education of Croatia - whose country holds the EU's presidency - believes that "the biggest concern is the social issue: how to safeguard equality".

The commissioner Gabriel also stressed that the current experience will be "vital" input for the upcoming Digital Education Action Plan, which the commission is expected to announce in June.

'Protect internationalisation'

Meanwhile, a new report based on the experience of 22,000 international students revealed that 65 percent will be able to continue their mobility programme - half of them have fully online classes and 34 percent have partially online courses.

"Several problems were reported with the technical implementation of online courses, and while these can probably be worked around somehow, the real 'Erasmus experience' is unlikely to be the same," reads the report published by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN).

For those who were taking part in an EU's mobility programme, the commission called on higher education institutions to be "as flexible and pragmatic a possible" to help students to achieve their learning agreements.

However, according to ESN research, the majority of students do not know what will happen to their grants and only 24 percent of the respondent reported that they will keep, partially or fully, their Erasmus scholarship.

Meanwhile, experts warn about the negative impact that the coronavirus outbreak can have on the Erasmus model as fears and concerns might continue once the crisis is over.

"One of the biggest concerns in the long-term is how to protect the idea of internationalisation to continue offering students international and intercultural skills," Renilde Knevels, policy advisor for internationalisation of universities of applied sciences in Flanders (Belgium), told EUobserver.

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