Education social partners discuss the aftermath of COVID-19 in Europe

24 June 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.

On Monday 22 June 2020 the trade union and employer delegations of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue in Education gathered through videolink for their first working group meeting since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. This meeting gave ETUCE and EFEE members an opportunity to address the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the sustainability and the resilience of education systems, to share experiences and to plan for the future.

The joint meeting was kicked off by presentation from Gyula Cserey, from the European Commission, who gave social partners an overview of the lessons the Commission is drawing from the coronavirus crisis. From the perspective of the Commission:

  • Education in Europe must be rapidly modernised and digitalised.
  • The role of teachers and education personnel cannot be understated, but they face a wide range of challenges which impair their career development and the attractiveness of their profession.
  • Social inequalities are still too significant and have been cemented by the lack of face-to-face teaching and access to distance learning tools, which increased stress, anxiety as well as risks of school leaving among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In the aftermath of the crisis, the European Commission plans to launch several initiatives within a new education policy framework. These include establishing a European network for teachers to support their professional development and setting out common goals and benchmarks across the EU to support efforts to ensure that all students reaching secondary education.

In the ensuing discussions, social partners emphasised the urgent need for greater public investment in education. This requires reforms to our economic governance and funding models, and the exclusion of education sector spending from the limits and rules of the Stability and Growth Pact. They also stressed that education is ever-changing and constantly adapts to social changes and crises – the COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored long-term trends and existing needs.

Education staff’s major concerns include the lack of digitals tools and access to professional training, the need to guarantee equal access to quality education and the insufficient attractiveness of the profession. Governments must now commit to increased public investment in order to improve education infrastructure and tackle inequalities. In addition, in the follow-up of the COVID-19 crisis, it is more than ever important that policymakers and authorities engage with social partners through meaningful discussions and consultations when developing new initiatives.

Members from EFEE and ETUCE then shared national examples of good practices aimed at building resilient and forward-looking education systems through social dialogue and innovate teaching methods.

Finally, ETUCE and EFEE members were able to discuss a joint statement on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on education and the role of education social partners which is still under negotiation.