From 16 March 2020, Croatian learners at all levels of education, including VET and adult education, are being taught in virtual classes in their homes, as per government decision and guidelines from the Ministry of Science and Education. Three weeks after the first registered case of the Covid-19 virus in Croatia, and upon the declaration of a national epidemic, the education community in Croatia organised virtual teaching in only five days.
Coordinated efforts and peer collaboration in transition to distance learning
From their homes, teachers are the main facilitators of the distance learning process: they manage virtual classrooms, monitor learner attendance and completion of assignments. In upper-secondary education, including VET, most teachers are combining different approaches to teaching: they create their own lessons for learners, share teaching materials and direct students to learning materials published online or broadcast on national TV stations. Teachers deliver online classes through the existing virtual platforms of their schools or virtual classrooms created with the support of the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNET). To facilitate virtual teaching and learning, the Agency for VET and Adult Education (ASOO) launched a new online platform featuring varied digital content for distance learning in VET. It allows teachers to choose the appropriate vocational content from numerous online courses, videos, narrated presentations and slideshows, as well as project assignments, uploaded daily for all 13 VET sectors. For the general education component of VET, students can use the content broadcast on TV or uploaded onto the platform School for life (Škola za život); this is the central platform for curriculum reform in general education introduced in all schools as of 2019/20. The Ministry of Science and Education and the Education and Teacher Training Agency (AZOO) coordinate the preparation of the general education content for primary and secondary education, including general education content for VET. The schedule for TV broadcast of general education subjects, including those that are part of VET programmes, is prepared weekly basis and published on the Ministry’s web site. In March 2020, the Ministry of Science and Education issued recommendations for the daily organisation of learning in distance education, offering different options and suggestions to teachers, learners and parents on teaching and learning activities. Teachers and mentors are encouraged to share and create virtual learning content and to offer supplementary classes to learners. In adult education, providers are invited to offer distance education in line with their resources and may adapt the content from platforms for learners in regular education, as appropriate.
Assessment focus on student well-being and engagement in learning, not grades
In April 2020, the Ministry of Science and Education issued instructions for student assessment in distance learning at all education levels. Based on these instructions, ASOO further elaborated the corresponding Recommendations on assessment in VET, accompanied by detailed examples of assessment in the context of distance learning for nine VET sectors and additional recommendations for adult education. The framework for distance learning insists on a fair, flexible and balanced approach to student assessment. It states its orientation to student well-being instead of grades, supporting motivation for learning and rewarding learner engagement and initiative. The framework urges teachers to define priorities in assessment clearly and focus on important aspects of learning geared towards acquiring learning outcomes, values and integrity. It further advises teachers to provide clear and transparent instructions to learners in teaching, learning and assessment to encourage trust between teachers, learners and parents. The framework favours formative assessment and more creative tasks in summative assessment. For example, teachers could suggest project, research or problem-solving assignments, e-portfolio or presentations for grading learners. Conversely, traditional oral and written examination should only be used in moderation, flexibly, adjusted to the different learning environments, resources or capacities of learners and accompanied by learner self-assessment or peer assessment. The framework also advises teachers on mechanisms to prevent cheating in examinations, assessing learners with disabilities and suggesting second-chance assessments to low-achievers and less active learners. VET teachers are encouraged to teach and assess learners in practical skills through different simulation alternatives; however, they are advised to provide clear instructions on the task and remain mindful of the technology available to learners.
No changes in standard requirements for completion of VET
To complete this school year and/or to graduate, learners in VET will need to complete all the usual requirements for completion/graduation, including the required work-based learning (WBL) and the final practical assignment for graduation, as well as receiving grades for distance learning. WBL in schools and companies has not been possible since the beginning of the epidemic and distance education. However, as of 11 May 2020, the public health conditions were met for a limited number of learners to start returning to schools, mostly in lower grades of primary and pre-school education. Distance teaching and learning would continue in VET until the end of the school year. However, VET schools may opt to hold the mandatory presentations of the final practical assignments for graduating learners at the school premises or online, with the appropriate protocols on health and safety developed and introduced. If the work-based learning component had not been completed by learners before the Covid-19 outbreak, and the public health prerequisites for the occupation allow it, learners are expected to resume WBL in school or companies until the full workload has been completed as set by vocational curricula. In May 2020, ASOO issued recommendations for the implementation of WBL and the presentation of final practical assignments for learners graduating in VET. ASOO, AZOO and the Ministry of Science and Education also assisted the Croatian Public Health Institute in developing instructions for WBL, examinations and presentations of final practical assignments delivered at the school premises in May and June 2020. The instructions list detailed public health measures for the time spent in schools, necessary for all learners to complete the school year or graduate from secondary education. For WBL in companies, employers must also ensure other public health measures that apply to their profession.
A network of support to teachers, learners and parents
While AZOO and ASOO offer continuous guidance, counselling and quality assurance of teaching content and delivery, CARNET and the Ministry of Science and Education are available for technical support to schools. In preparation for the transition to a virtual environment, computers were distributed to all teachers and learners who did not have adequate equipment at home and virtual meeting classrooms were set up to facilitate communication between the education authorities, school directors and teachers. The Ministry of Science and Education also initiated a mental health helpline for learners, teachers and parents.