Legal arrangements for VET delivery during the Covid-19 epidemic
A series of government and ministerial decisions were published between March and May 2020: remote delivery in general (public) education and in VET institutions (Government Decision 1102/2020); organisation of the matura – end of upper secondary certificate – exams, allowing learners to withdraw from the May-June exam period without sanctions and attend instead the autumn exam session (Government Decree 119/20); new arrangements for the organisation of the vocational qualification exams (practice-oriented complex examination taking place upon completion of a VET programme) (Ministerial Decision No JEF/36644/2020-ITM); arrangements set in place by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (MIT) for vocational qualification exams for foreign students (official information published on 12 May); and school operation till the end of the academic year (2 to 15 June) continues in remote mode or, on parents’ request, small group session organised in schools (Government Decree No 220/2020).
Schools were not closed. Despite the fact that there was no education within the premises, VET centres secured the possibility of small group activities, following requests from parents. Teachers could perform their duties remotely or work on site using the school digital infrastructure. As education continuity was ensured, they were entitled to receive their normal remuneration.
Digital tools and methods to teach differently
The Public education registration and academic basic system (NEPTUN-KRÉTA) was the official online channel of communication, for teachers to assign homework, and for contacting parents. Video learning content was created by teachers and made available through YouTube video links.
The Classroom application offered a message board for learners and teachers to exchange messages and teaching material (including PowerPoint presentations and audio recordings for English language lessons). The Redmenta application automatically corrected test papers, following which teachers were able to grade the students. Teachers paid special attention to the pedagogical aspect when delivering new learning content, focusing on not overloading students, especially the younger ones.
Online learning offers advantages. In Redmenta, assessment could be customised: a learner can correct and resubmit homework several times within a given time period, thus improving performance and grades. This has been excellent motivation for learners. Self-learning and increased flexibility also apply: learners can receive feedback on their mistakes and make corrections themselves, and deadlines for delivering school assignments can be extended.
Support to disadvantaged VET learners
Regional VET centres paid special attention to those learners with no access to digital devices or internet connection at home. Education for these was organised through digital welfare points in small groups of maximum five learners.
Disadvantaged students, for whom transportation was a problem, received paper-based learning content and exercises by post, which they returned in the same way. It was compulsory for education institutions to make this possible and to follow studies accordingly. Mobile internet providers also contributed to handling the pandemic by offering unlimited internet access without charging for internet data consumption.
Specific arrangements put in place in formal VET
- Arrangements included:
- from 16 March, digital learning outside the classroom was implemented;
- there is no oral examination activity in the framework of vocational exams (only written);
- special health and hygiene conditions apply in written exams (examination committee members cannot be above the age 65; compulsory use of face masks for learners and the jury, use of rubber gloves when touching examination papers or certificates;
- during the written examination, adequate physical distance is to be kept with maximum of 10 students per class. Learners may request access to their papers only by electronic means;
- practical exams could be organised at a time appointed by the VET school – if possible in May – but only in small groups, keeping the necessary physical distance and hygiene recommendations;
- those VET graduates can participate in the written exam, who have already done 60% of the compulsory professional practice period in the academic year 2019/20.
Cooperation in VET: turning a problem into an opportunity
VET institutions, companies, teachers, VET learners and parents have been cooperating and adapting to the new situation. Teachers shared digital sources with their colleagues. In-company instructors created professional digital and simulation computer-based programmes, in collaboration with companies providing practical training (workshops) and economic chambers. Students used these videos at home, making it possible for learners to carry out their professional practice period at home to avoid repeating the academic year. Parents secured access to digital devices at home and helped their children.
VET centres had also an active role. As part of their practical training, learners from several VET centres together with their teachers produced face masks and plexi-shields (so far, some 50 000 face masks and 660 plexi-shields have been made using 3D printers). They have started to produce protective wear for pharmacies and for the healthcare sector. VET centres loaned sewing machines to students working from home.
To begin there was some uncertainty among teachers who did not know which online platform to use for uploading teaching materials (Google drive, classroom.com, KRÉTA). This was agreed in school meetings held in the premises which allow the teaching process to run as a smooth operation. Optional platforms were also used for remote homework (classroom.com, redmenta.com, wordwall.com, learningatps.com)
Remote learning was difficult within family circumstances, mainly for primary school students when parents also had also to work remotely and help their children connect to the school platform. Upper secondary (VET) learners could easily adapt to online learning.
The teaching experience for those with small children at home was difficult (giving online lectures through Skype, Webex, Teams, Zoom, etc.). Video calls suffered from technical issues which created delays for learners to connect into the virtual classroom.
For families with more than one child of school age, having access to one digital device was problematic. According to teachers, the parents’ positive attitude towards remote learning and their active engagement in the learning process helped children stay focused and motivated. From a longer-term perspective, learners felt the absence of personal contacts, teacher guidance and explanation, and the classroom community.
It is a positive aspect that multiple digital learning materials have been prepared. Teachers intend to include these into their own teaching practice after the pandemic.