The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on VET teachers and schools


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On 24 June 2020 ETUCE co-organised a webinar about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on vocational education and training (VET) and lifelong learning in partnership with MBO-Raad, the Association of VET colleges in the Netherlands, and the European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE). The event took place as part of the project ‘Lifelong Learning for All: Social Partners in Education promoting quality and inclusive VET to enhance lifelong learning for all’ which is coordinated by MBO-Raad.

The webinar focused on three country cases presented by education trade unions and employers from Slovenia, Portugal and the Netherlands. The employers’ organisations and trade unions underlined the importance of cooperation between teachers and school heads in situations where VET schools had to change to distance learning.

Speakers from the European Commission, Ann Nikowska, Ann Vanden-Bulcke and Tamas Varnai, explained that the COVID-19 was an even greater disadvantage for VET learners than for students in general education because apprenticeships in most companies stopped altogether. The European Commission is working to analyse the short and long-term consequences of the crisis in the adult learning sector. They highlighted the importance of the recently adopted Council conclusions on European teachers and trainers for the future which emphasise the crucial role of teachers in governance of education.

The social partners from Portugal, the National Education Federation (ETUCE member FNE) and the National Association of Professional Schools (ANESPO/CNEF), underlined that the COVID-19 crisis had increased inequalities among students because access to meals, IT tools and the internet all became difficult for some. At the same time, the average age of the Portuguese teachers is over 60 so they are themselves in one of the main risk groups for infection. FNE stressed  that education and learning became a social service during the crisis, while the teachers and trainers were abandoned to their fate. Although teachers showed great professionalism and dedication, some school heads did not trust them and asked for recordings of classes or demanded that staff  provides online teaching from the school during the lock down. FNE launched a campaign which addressed various issues which arose during the crisis: the dangers of deregulating working time; the need to guarantee the right to disconnect; protections for teachers’ health and safety; investment in IT training for teachers; cybersecurity and protection of personal data; ensuring teachers’ work-life balance.

The social partners of Slovenia, representing the education trade union ESTUS and the employers’ organisation the Association of Secondary and Vocational School Headmasters, explained how the ministry and headmasters worked to provide guidelines to teachers, while the ministry collected private donations to provide IT tools for the students. The education trade union, ESTUS, explained that teachers were highly motivated  but regretted that their strong partnership with the government was cut off during the crisis. Now the education trade union is demanding recognition and evaluation of teachers’ extra work during the crisis, along with new health and safety measures to protect at-risk staff and vulnerable students.ESTUS worked during the crisis to ensure that teachers received updated information on government measures which would affect teaching and the health and safety of education support personnel who had to continue working in schools, such as IT maintenance staff.

From the Netherlands, the Regional Public Employment Service of Amsterdam described a project to support the professional transitions of workers at risk of loosing their jobs because of the crisis. The education trade union AOB explained that teachers needed more help from the government to ensure that disadvantaged students could access distance learning. Meanwhile teachers struggled with an increase of workload, worsened by the fact that only 3% of the teachers had experience with online teaching before the crisis according to an AOB survey.

At the end of the event, ETUCE and EFEE underlined the importance of partnership between teachers and school leaders and social dialogue between education trade unions and ministries to ensure quality VET.