Closed educational establishments, digital learning, fewer apprenticeships – the Coronavirus crisis also had a major impact on the education sector. However, it is the intention of the German Presidency to make progress especially in the areas of digitalisation and vocational training.
From childcare facilities via schools up to universities and institutions of further education – mid-March, educational establishments all over Europe closed their doors. During the months that followed, the already worrying situation had a particularly strong effect on socially disadvantaged pupils. However, the situation also had consequences for students and (future) apprentices. Whilst the number of those looking for an apprenticeship in Austria between February and May 2020 steeply rose, the offer of training placements collapsed. That this development was not even more dramatic, is largely due to the introduction of short-time work.
Informal Council Meeting
On 16 and 17 September 2020, the Ministers for Education of the EU and EFTA states met Nicolas Schmit, the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights and Mariya Gabriel, the Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth for an Informal Meeting in Osnabrück, Germany. The issues of the Meeting – the first under the current German Presidency – focussed on the impact of the Coronavirus crisis on general and vocational training. As the Federal Minister for Education Anja Karliczek concluded, the Member States agreed at the initiative of the German EU Presidency to further strengthen their cooperation in respect of European vocational education. Karliczek said “During the past two days we have taken a major step forward together for the EU in terms of the important topics of education and training”.
The second day of the Meeting, which was also joined by representatives of European social partners, also saw the launch of the so-called Osnabrück Declaration. This shall modernise European vocational education and deepen cross-border cooperation within a European Education Area. Concrete targets of the Declaration would be enhancing employability, excellent vocational education and training at university level, which aims at ensuring equivalence between vocational and academic education, thereby easing the transfer between academic and vocational education. The Declaration is to be adopted during the formal Council Meeting at the end of November.
Vocational education and training is one of the three main objectives of the German Presidency in the education sector. The aim is to demonstrate that it is an equally valuable alternative to an academic education. Apart from that, the entire education sector shall be made more digital.
Particularly strong effect on socially disadvantaged pupils
Suddenly, from one day to the next, millions of European pupils had to deal with digital lessons – if at all. This had far-reaching consequences. This is among other explained by a study of the ifo Institute (Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at Munich University) on education in the Coronavirus crisis. The study also examined the effect of the three-month school closure in Germany on inequalities in the education sector. The extent of curricular activities during this period decreased by ca 50 %. Instead, pupils spent more time on “passive activities”, for example television or social media. However, the study also shows that children, where no parent had a university degree, received significantly less support from their schools than children, where at least one parent has such a degree. Hence, during the sample period 49 % of pupils without academic family background were not called by a teacher, whereas that was only the case for 33 % of pupils with academic family background.
In order to be able to better meet the challenges of an increasingly digitalised education sector in future, the EU Commission announced the presentation of a revised Digital Education Action Plan for 30 September 2020. This shall among other make better use of digital technology for teaching and learning and take the experiences from the Coronavirus crisis into account.
The importance of vocational education and training
Overall, the Coronavirus crisis and the now to be initiated phase of regeneration does not only bear many challenges, but also offers the chance to make up for previous failures. However, this requires appropriate political measures.
The digital transformation involves all levels and phases of (vocational) education. It presents new opportunities but is also accompanied by certain risks. Hence, from the point of view of the Chamber of Labour, digital skills are key to be able to participate in a digitalised society and a digitalised labour market. Even before the Coronavirus crisis, the AK had demanded more intensive measures in the vocational education and training sector. In a world, where employees do not only find themselves increasingly working in precarious jobs, but where they are also confronted with continuously changing requirement profiles, the opportunity for lifelong learning is vital. It has to be ensured that all people are able to develop the skills they need to meet the challenges of a rapidly transforming society.