As Europe plans the exit from COVID-19 shutdown, leaders must listen to education personnel and their trade unions

21 April 2020

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, but several European countries are taking cautious first steps towards ending the lockdown. The EU is trying to offer a framework for these exit strategies, with the Commission and the Council releasing a joint roadmap. ETUCE welcomes the attempt to support a coordinated exit from the shutdown. However, any reopening must not risk fresh outbreaks and measures must be taken in consultation with education personnel and trade unions.

On 15 April the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council launched a Joint European Roadmap towards lifting COVID-19 containment measures. This document sets out a broad framework which EU member states are invited to follow when developing their exit strategies.

Education institutions and their staff have been seriously impacted by this crisis, and reopening will not be a simple process. It is important to find solutions which protect quality public education and which are fair to students, teachers and other education personnel. With this in mind, ETUCE sent a letter to the Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, offering the perspective of education trade unions on the gradual end of confinement and closures. We raised five crucial points that must be taken into consideration in debates about the reopening of education systems:

  1. All measures related to the progressive reopening of kindergartens, schools, vocational education and training institutions and universities should be introduced on the basis of regular consultations with the education social partners at all levels.
  2. In cases of progressive reopening of education institutions, appropriate and comprehensive health and safety measures must be implemented for the benefit of education personnel, students, and the whole education community, and adequate resources must be allocated to education institutions to implement them. At national level, no hasty decision to reopen education institutions should be made without any prior consultation with social partners.
  3. The continuation of distance learning measures must include a sound assessment and profound reflection on the current challenges faced by the teaching profession working remotely. More attention should be paid to the unequal access to the relevant distance teaching and learning equipment and the difficulties surrounding the organisation of classes outside the traditional setting and their impact on the quality of education and the workload of teaching staff.
  4. In many countries, the traditional school/academic year has been heavily disrupted, with consequences on, among other issues, curricula, evaluations and end-of-year exams. It is primordial that the teaching profession is meaningfully and regularly consulted in ways to address these disruptions, in view to ensure that the response is both adequate and coherent.
  5. The rights of education personnel must be respected at all times, e.g. concerning, amongst other issues, workload, working time, pay and pensions. Given the severe teacher shortage that many European countries have been struggling with already before this crisis, the reopening of education institutions has to give prove that the important professional contribution of education personnel during and after this crisis is recognised and value the cooperation with teaching professionals and their unions in maintaining quality and safe workplaces and retaining quality education personnel in the profession.

ETUCE is awaiting a reply from the European Commission. We call on Heads of State and Ministers of Education to consider these fundamental points in their plans for an exit strategy. Member organisations are also using this letter in their own advocacy towards national governments and education authorities.

Image by Tim Dennell on Flickr used under CC BY-NC 2.0.