Education ministers put focus on distance learning

Photo: EU Mariya Gabriel.

The implications of the coronavirus crisis on the educational systems across the EU and the challenges arising due to the switch to distance education, were highlighted on Tuesday during the informal video conference of ministers of education, organised by the Croatian Presidency.

The majority of EU countries decided to close schools and universities due to the pandemic and many of them refocused their efforts on distance learning, putting an accent on digital solutions, but this also is creating challenges.

The session was chaired by Blaženka Divjak, Croatian Minister of Science and Education. In its work took part Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

Education ministers exchanged practices on distance learning possibilities and relating issues, precisely organising virtual learning and teaching, upgrading the existing IT systems, providing fair access to and preserving quality of education and training, as well as providing different types of tailored support to students, teachers and families.

After the meeting, Minister Divjak pointed out that Member States were able to respond quickly and adapt by organising virtual classrooms and lessons by using various online platforms, sharing materials via websites, and broadcasting lessons on radio and TV channels. Member States regularly exchange information on the challenges they face, as well as on new ideas and innovative practices, she said adding that she is pleased that they are willing to share their online educational solutions and innovations.

According to her the most pressing issues are connected to assessment, especially school-leaving exams and enrolment in higher education institutions. Coordination on the EU level helps Member States to find optimal solutions, she stressed.

Commissioner Gabriel underscored that the swift spread of the coronavirus had a major impact on schools and higher education in all EU countries. Praising the rapid response from the Member States and also the commitments of teachers, students and parents and their efforts to continue the educational process, she emphasised the need to overcome the difficulties and further improve digital education, which will play an increasingly important role in the future.

On the concrete measures already taken after the first videoconference meeting, held a month ago, she noted that the Commission has set up a virtual group as to facilitate the exchange of information and good practices between EU countries. This 'eTwinning’ group supports closed schools and brings a platform where teachers can share good practices in distance learning and can find free resources and tools. For teachers and students was created a new specialised School Education Gateway that offers accessible resources.

The updated Digital Education Action Plan, that will be tabled in June, will deliver also in view of the short-term response to the crisis, including enhancing the digital capacity of educational institutions, Commissioner Gabriel said.

On the challenges connected with the higher education and the admission for the next academic year, she specified that Member States have to encourage universities in their countries to be flexible in the upcoming admissions process, including through possibility of later submitting secondary education diplomas and a later deadline for final enrollment, for example until September.

Ministers welcomed the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative and expressed interest in funding possibilities to support education and training in response to the crisis.

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