Call to put the adoption of the Council Recommendations on blended learning on hold

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On 16 November 2021, the ETUCE Committee adopted a position on the “Proposal for a Council Recommendation on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education” calling the Education Ministries of the European Union to hold the adoption of the Council Recommendations by the Education Council meeting of the EU on 29 November 2021.

ETUCE remarks that the proposal lacks analysing the challenges related to blended learning and the limitations that its implementation entails. Indeed, while blended learning can be an approach, among many others, to enhance quality and inclusion in education, its positive impact is neither automatic nor granted. Besides, ETUCE particularly regrets the lack of consultation with education trade unions and education stakeholders on this proposal, which was only subjected to an unusual short public consultation and its publication rushed during the summer holiday.

In primary and secondary education, the current use of blended learning is still substantially linked with the emergency settings of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the examples of blended learning applications demonstrate in the EU Commission’s working papers accompanying this initiative.

The enormous difficulties encountered during emergency teaching and learning have clearly shown that teachers still miss adequate tools to overcome the challenges deriving from blended teaching and learning. These include access to digital equipment, shortage of teachers and supporting staff, increased workload and deteriorated working conditions for teachers, increased student drop-out and new challenges on health and safety of teachers and students.

Besides, in the primary and secondary education sectors, the social contact between teachers and students and the face-to-face teaching has proved to be of irreplaceable value to ensure the best pedagogical methods and students’ outcomes, as well as to foster the full development of the children’s potential.

The adoption of a Council Recommendation on blended learning without appropriate consultation with education trade unions will lead to a distorted perception of blended learning by national education authorities. This will have a serious impact on the working conditions of teachers and learning outcomes of students as well as on the quality and inclusion of education.

Therefore, education trade unions urge the EU Member States to put the adoption of this proposal on hold, to allow appropriate consultation with education trade unions, as well as further research to clarify the definition of blended learning and its pedagogical value. It is also crucial to carefully address the risks of a blended learning initiative on the quality of education and working conditions of teachers.

The adopted ETUCE position elaborates 9 recommendations to be fulfilled before formulating policy recommendations on blended learning in primary and secondary education:  

  1. Provide a clear and commonly agreed definition of blended learning to avoid for a policy recommendation on blended learning to redefine the working conditions of teachers.
  1. Ensure meaningful social dialogue with education trade unions and the full respect of collective bargaining mechanisms when formulating any policy recommendations on blended learning.
  1. Protect the importance and centrality of face-to-face teaching and learning in education.
  1. Ensure decent working conditions and professional autonomy of teachers as enshrined in “the Council Conclusion on teachers and trainers for the future” (2020).
  1. Clearly recognise the right of teachers to receive up-to-date, qualitative, and accessible initial and continuous professional development.
  1. Ensure that blended learning does not hinder equal access to quality education, including education institutions, for all students, particularly for the most vulnerable groups.
  1. Protect the health and safety of teachers and other education personnel in blended teaching environments.
  1. Adequately address the increasing trends of privatisation and expansion of the EdTech sector in education, including through the development of national regulations that protect the public value of education.
  1. Ensure adequate public investment at regional, national, and European level for quality and inclusive education.

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ETUCE position on the Proposal for a Council Recommendation on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education