16/03/2020

Uncharted Territory? Emergency remote teaching in times of COVID-19 crisis: Our Steering Committee discusses ways forward

With COVID-19 forcing schools across Europe to close, many teachers, students and families are discovering emergency remote teaching and learning for the first time. How are policy-makers supporting schools and what challenges are they facing?

During a webinar on 18 March, representatives from Ministries of Education from 18 countries shared developments actions put in place in their countries as well as challenges arising from the crisis. The discussion led to some key themes emerging such as digital platforms and content, support, guidance and implementation strategies, while challenges highlighted by participants include network capacity, examinations and how to support struggling schools and teachers. "In 72 hours we jumped to the 21st century", as one Ministry representative put it.

Providing guidance and support

Ministries of Education are providing practical guidance to school leaders, teachers and families on how to get started with distance learning: how to set up an online classroom, what platforms to use, where to find digital resources, etc. Ministries and regional authorities are offering crash online courses, webinars and tutorials for teachers like step-by step guides to distance learning. Some also set up hotlines to provide school heads and teachers with both practical and psychological support. In addition, Ministries are reaching out to families. For example, a webinar for families was attended by 8,000 people. "We learned is that we need different channels to communicate to parents," as one country representative observed.

Challenges

The most immediate challenge that many countries face are issues with the capacity of platforms and bandwidth due to the high demand and especially at peak times. For digitally advanced schools with strong leadership, the transition to emergency remote learning is easier to organise. The situation in other schools however can be more challenging. "We need more structure and to ensure that all students are working on their tasks", according to a country representative.

A heartening development is that many teachers and schools across Europe are rising to the challenge of distance teaching at short notice, with many examples of teachers supporting each other in communities, sharing advice, links and resources. "Everyone has a steep learning curve. Everyone is forced to learn quickly", according to one country representative.

However, this can itself create problems for Ministries of Education that need to monitor and connect the many different initiatives from regional authorities, businesses, schools, etc., and to provide clear guidance, on, for example, what platforms and tools students should use.

Finally, Ministries not only need to manage the immediate challenges, but also prepare schools for the next months, when no one knows how the situation will evolve. One crucial challenge is how to organise this year's school leaving exams and other national and school-based tests.

In conclusion, Giovanni Biondi, Chair of European Schoolnet, said: "after this terrible moment in time, schools will not be the same again," adding that European Schoolnet is reflecting on what post-COVID-19 schooling will look like. Marc Durando, Executive Director, European Schoolnet, underlined the importance of the network and said that the webinar would be followed up with concrete support for teachers and ministries, particularly on pressing issues identified by the participants. "We need to prepare a coherent, strategic approach to help us reflect about how to organise schooling after the crisis", he concluded.

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