With a view to responding effectively to the Covid-19 challenges in vocational education and training (VET), a coordination group was set us within the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania. This aimed to synchronise, at the national level, the activities of VET institutions during quarantine: reallocating both human and financial resources as needed, ensuring continuous communication, immediately amending or adopting relevant legal acts, conducting continuous monitoring, and employing a one-stop-shop principle to provide consultative methodical assistance.
The period from 16 March 2020 to 30 March 2020 (spring (Easter) holidays) was an opportunity for VET institutions to prepare adequately for transition to remote organisation of VET.
Systematic VET works: an effective State response to Covid-19 challenges
The Minister of Education, Science and Sport approved the Recommendations for remote organisation of VET processes by Order No. V-396 of 19 March 2020. This provided instructions and guidance to the communities of VET providers on remote organisation of education until the normal process was resumed:
- vocational schools had to assess quickly (by 23 March 2020) their capacity to offer remote education and be operational at the reopening of schools, preferably, through a remote learning environment that enabled real-time and asynchronous communication;
- teachers were invited to accumulate (by 27 March 2020) digital teaching resources and exercises and organise virtual learning. For less digitally skilled teachers, training resources were made available by Kaunas University of Technology and other suppliers, such as the EDUKA Klasė digital environment licence, granted free of charge to all schools during quarantine or the Google Suite for Education virtual training; at their own initiative, teachers were independently joining virtual communities and sharing their experience.
- VET institutions were instructed to designate an information and communication technology coordinator to advise teachers and students; arrange how learning assignments and theoretical material are provided, when and how students can seek teacher assistance and explanations, how much time students will have to allocate for assignments, and how feedback will be given to students.
The Order includes recommendations for the organisation of video conferences for consultations and classes, encouraging teachers to use video classrooms, and recording remote classes. Teachers may create a private Facebook group for knowledge sharing. Teachers can connect to the remote learning environment either from home or their workplace.
Vocational education and training resumes in distance learning
Order No. V-469 of 30 March 2020, establishes that in the period from 30 March 2020 until the end of the quarantine regime formal VET must be organised remotely. All VET institutions, through a dedicated online platform, have access to a Moodle virtual learning environment adapted to VET needs. This was developed through the ESF‑funded project Development of information systems and registers for VET and lifelong learning.
To ensure VET accessibility to learners from socially vulnerable groups, The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport conducted a survey to identify the share of students to be provided with computers and internet connection (about 35 000 children). Public procurement has been organised and most of the equipment has been purchased or rented. Both the business community and individuals have been donating computers through a dedicated platform A School at Home where people can lend or donate IT equipment (362 individuals, 59 businesses and some 1500 computers collected by 1 May).
The biggest challenge for VET institutions is the provision of practical skills required for certain competences. Order No. V-574 of 17 April 2020 establishes that final assessment for VET graduates in 2019/20 shall not be carried out during quarantine. Instead, their average grades on the vocational subjects (modules, units) will be indicated in the diplomas. However, qualification assessment has been allowed for some programmes such as firefighter-rescuer, policeman, paramedic, and motor vehicle carriage driver.
Changes in VET content: guaranteed quality assurance
The theoretical part of VET programmes and some practical training have been carried out with the use of digital means, when remote delivery is not possible, practical training is postponed until the normal education process is resumed.
Distance learning requires more time from teachers to prepare for classes, yet feedback from VET students has been very positive: a survey conducted in April show that learners’ self-motivation for distance learning is high, in more than half of VET institutions, ranging from 7 to 9 in a scale to 10.
VET community: the lessons learned
Remote VET has not only mobilised the community for action but also opened up an opportunity to re-evaluate working methods and teaching materials. The key aspect is involving the VET community both at a school level and also at a national level. Both learners and teachers have become more open to change and willing to share the best remote VET practices. Feedback has been more thoroughly analysed, showing that remote classes are often more attractive for learners that physical classes.
The Qualifications and VET Development Centre has been coordinating the development of a digital resources bank of good VET practices, which can be used by all VET institutions to share each other’s digital resources.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, together with the Association of Lithuanian VET institutions, have been organising weekly remote consultations and seminars aimed at sharing local problems, raising issues and finding solutions, sharing good practices and making strategic decisions together.
Lithuanian universities, other education institutions, and even business establishments have provided all teachers with free access to their digital resources (the major share is also freely accessible to the general public) and an opportunity to take part in training courses free of charge. For example, members of the Vytautas Magnus University community have shared their video lectures and records.
The survey results leave no doubt among the specialists of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport that remote learning should be considered in future for VET implementation plans.