European Schoolnet and Covid-19: supporting the School Community

The crisis generated by the spread of Covid-19 has arguably led to more technology-supported change in schools in a few weeks than in the past 20 years. Digital technologies are playing a key role in providing much-needed continuity and support for teachers, learners and families in ways that would have been unimaginable, if not impossible, only a few years ago.

Throughout Europe, Ministries of Education have rapidly put in place measures linked to the closure of schools and launched a range of emergency remote teaching initiatives to support school leaders, teachers, parents, and of course young people, in this exceptional period.

For its part, European Schoolnet, being the network of Ministries of Education, has moved quickly to enable member Ministries to share experiences and challenges, beginning with an online round table on 18th March 2020 and a series of follow-up actions focused on an exchange platform for Ministry partners to continue to share policies and strategies linked to particular topics, for example examinations, inclusion and supporting online teaching. Actions reported by the 18 countries represented at the meeting include coordinating and monitoring initiatives, providing guidance to schools and families, setting up platforms for distance teaching and collaboration, adding new resources and learning materials to repositories, free offers from publishers and EdTech companies, daily lessons broadcast by national TV companies, supporting families with connectivity and equipment, hotlines, webinars, MOOCs and crash courses for teachers and parents. Concerns include examination scheduling, overloaded networks and servers and supporting vulnerable families. In all countries however, teachers are rising to this exceptional challenge.

To help the school community provide support and continuity in this unprecedented situation, European Schoolnet has identified a range of resources from current projects – both internally and externally funded – to support collaboration, professional development, online safety and STEM teachers:

  • The Future Classroom Lab offers:
    • Free resources and activities for online teaching curated in a regularly-updated article.
    • Special editions of webinars "Teaching in time of corona" including eleven real-life teacher stories about experiences of remote teaching and learning. The recordings and presentations are available online.
    • Regular Twitter chats (#edremotechat) bring teachers together to share experiences and reinforce a sense of community and mutual support.
  • In the European Schoolnet Academy teachers can find:
    • A range of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for primary and secondary teachers as well as other educational professionals. Thousands of teachers across Europe have already benefited from courses featuring content produced by teachers, teacher trainers and education experts. Past courses can be accessed for self-paced learning and cover topics ranging from online safety and the use of social media to project-based learning.
    • A newly launched European Schoolnet Academy Blog which provides teachers and teacher trainers with guidance on how to effectively learn online and benefit from the MOOCs.
    • Selected activities in ongoing and upcoming courses which have been adapted to address the current situation, offering teachers a place to exchange on how to address the challenges they are facing.
  • European Schoolnet is supporting the Commission in the development of EU Code Week that celebrates, with teachers and learners of any age, coding and computational thinking.
    • Through a series of webinars, EU Code Week is sharing best practices which range from helping teachers set up remote classes to sharing lesson plans on programming, unplugged computing, robotics, tinkering and more.
    • Ideas and resources shared during the webinars, as well as short video tutorials on how to code at home, under the supervision of either teachers or parents, will be made available on the EU Code Week blog and the Code Week YouTube channel.
    • The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition will also share these materials and, in addition, mobilise and coordinate National Coalitions to further support business, schools, universities and citizens to exploit the opportunities offered by technology to mitigate the negative effects of the current situation.
  • Better Internet for Kids: Under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), European Schoolnet is running on behalf of the European Commission the Better Internet for Kids platform. As such, it supports the Insafe network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs), who provide frontline online safety services to children and young people, parents and carers, and schools across Europe, include helplines offering immediate and tailored support.

    In response to the pandemic:

    • Some SICs have produced additional guidance already on keeping safe online in response to the pandemic (e.g. tips for parents, educating from home) which are being shared more widely through the BIK portal.
    • The March 2020 edition of BIK bulletin (with a special COVID-19 focus) includes further information, advice and resources.
    • General guidance on staying safe online during the pandemic will continue to be published and promoted in the following weeks both on the BIK portal and on social media, highlighting a range of useful tools and services (such as the BIK guide to online services), including guidance on how to embrace the benefits of social media to help us get through these difficult times.
  • Scientix, funded by the Science and Society programme under Horizon 2020, is offering two of its services to any Ministry of Education, STEM teacher, or STEM organisation until the end of May 2020:
    • The Scientix Online Meeting Room. To organise online activities, classes, webinars or events, check the availability of the meeting room and reserve it for your own use.
    • The Scientix Moodle Platform. Scientix offers a Moodle platform to teachers around Europe and the world to facilitate remote teaching during these challenging times. You can use the Scientix Moodle to share course content with students and support your online teaching.
  • European Schoolnet is operating the Central Support Service for eTwinning, funded by the Erasmus+ programme, acting as a service provider for the European Commission. The Commission has decided to integrate immediate priorities within the eTwinning 2020 work programme to support the challenges met by schools, teachers and students in the light of the Covid-19 crisis. eTwinning teachers are already familiar with online education and continue using the platform in such exceptional times with renewed vigour. The offer of eTwinning is increasing:
    • The platform now allows projects within the same school to offer a shared virtual space for teachers and pupils;
    • The number of online events and professional development activities is increasing and their focus includes tips, examples and activities to tackle the closure of schools;
    • The public portal features practices from the field.

All these materials are collected by a taskforce formed by National Support Services and the Central Support Service, in a spirit of mutual support and cross-fertilisation.

  • The European Commission's platform, School Education Gateway, operated by European Schoolnet, will offer:
    • A series of articles, surveys and webinars linked to the Covid-19 crisis, for example, a tutorial on online teaching and articles on online learning and teaching and family learning;
    • A short self-paced MOOC in the Teacher Academy on Five Strategies for Learning Online to support teachers in their own learning and to inspire them to design remote teaching with their students;
    • Further courses on topics ranging from supporting special needs and addressing bullying to formative assessment, as well as webinars and teaching resources.
  • Finally, Go-Lab aims to facilitate the use of innovative learning technologies in STEM education, by offering a sharing and authoring platform to access remote and virtual labs.

School systems may never be the same again after this crisis or they may revert pre-Covid-19 practices, possibly in the light of negative experiences born of necessarily hastily implemented remote teaching: frustration, inequalities and rejection of digital technology. Schools in Europe have responded with astonishing speed to Covid-19, as European Schoolnet's Executive Director Marc Durando observes: "The levels of professionalism and dedication of teachers and head teachers have been inspirational, as has the commitment shown by students and families to the school community in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. In the longer-term, we need to address issues such as access to equipment, connectivity, tools, resources, equity, professional development and exchange of practices. It is important therefore to reflect, in the light of the various experiences, on emerging formal school models, to rethink school: space, time, content and tools, processes, and, most of all, people."

During and after this period, European Schoolnet will be working closely with Ministries of Education and a wide range of education stakeholders to pave the way to provide the best outcomes for young people.