Main messages from the second informal videoconference of ministers of education on implications of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on education and training

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The second informal videoconference of ministers of education on implications of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on education and training was chaired by the Croatian Minister of Science and Education, Prof. Blaženka Divjak, on Tuesday, 14 April 2020.

The videoconference offered an opportunity for the ministers to share their experience and exchange their views on addressing the most recent challenges related to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Education has never been disrupted the way it is today. The switch to online education on a massive scale has brought different challenges and new challenges keep arising. The education landscape has changed as rapidly as never before. A lot of educational content and materials is being developed in the EU Member States, with lectures being delivered online or broadcast via public TV channels. Digital repositories are being developed and materials shared among teachers. Teaching and learning possibilities, as well support for teachers and students, are being offered via different digital tools. In some countries, there is valuable cooperation with the local authorities and private sector, including publishers and the educational technology industry.

Since virtual teaching may present a challenge for many teachers in terms of necessary skills, there are examples of targeted teacher training, promoting the use of e-learning platforms, including webinars for teachers on e-learning methodologies and techniques. Moreover, there are examples of enhanced cooperation between teachers and increased peer support. 

Several EU Member States have provided additional funding to better equip education and training institutions and launched new grant schemes to support individual students in completion of their studies. 

However, there are several challenges that were particularly emphasized in the ministerial discussion. Firstly, a major concern now seems to be a social one: how to safeguard equity. There are disadvantaged schools in remote areas and there are disadvantaged learners and families living in challenging and vulnerable conditions. These learners may lack access to the Internet service and necessary devices, or do not possess the skills necessary to use the online opportunities. Therefore, the ministers emphasised that additional support needs to be provided for disadvantaged learners, so that nobody is left behind. 

Secondly, at the moment, the main  challenge is how to organize the ending of the school and academic year. Some EU Member States are considering the possibility of extending the school year, but the majority is still open to different scenarios in that respect. Several countries have already decided to postpone, cancel or partially cancel the national school exit exams. As for enrolment to primary, secondary or higher education, there are also examples of already extended deadlines or possibilities to change the requirements. The ministers expressed their expectations towards universities in terms of flexibility with regards to enrolment criteria and deadlines. 

Finally, some countries have announced cautious reopening of schools. In this context, questions are arising about what it would take reopen the schools, how to make the transition to the new normal, how to compensate for the time of the closure. In this respect, some examples and possibilities were shared, such as learning summer holidays, remedial classes at the beginning of next school year, or gradual reopening starting with particular groups of disadvantaged students. 

When all hopes are directed towards European scientists to find the solution to the virus outbreak, close cooperation between the EU Member States in research and in education is very much appreciated . Cooperation and sharing of experiences at the EU level with a view to designing European models of distance learning was suggested, in order to support the implementation of a shared digital strategic approach to education. 

When it comes to funding required to counter the challenges, increased flexibility in the use of EU funding is welcomed by the Member States. The Commission announced different supportive initiatives and, in particular, two Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, which include possibilities  to support distance learning and in particular to support equal access to quality education for all. 

Investment in human capital, education and research is crucial, in particular in the times of crisis. Many ministers emphasized that the EU budget should be invested to support the digital strategy and in the implementation of the new EU Digital Education Action Plan.

The Croatia’s Presidency is committed to continue supporting European cooperation and exchanges and intends to prepare Council conclusions in response to this exceptional challenge we are facing.


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