Cedefop’s ReferNet partners share how their countries responded to the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic on national education and training systems, including vocational education and training (VET), which typically takes place in schools and companies in the form of practical training or apprenticeships.

ReferNet is Cedefop’s network of institutions providing information on VET systems and policies in the EU Member States, Iceland and Norway. The national news items, published on the Cedefop website, provide insights into the main challenges countries came up against.

Transition to distance learning

As a general response, schools were mostly closed by ministerial decisions to prevent the spread of the virus, while teaching and learning processes had to be organised online.

Countries’ different levels of digital readiness meant that many teachers and trainers had to become digitally literate overnight. Ministries, local authorities and other stakeholders, including private businesses and volunteers, provided access to resources, advice and support to teachers, trainers, learners and their parents.

In Austria, Czechia, Estonia, Spain and Sweden existing digital resources and tools ensured a smooth transition to distance learning. In Luxembourg, a webinar was offered to support VET teachers in developing knowledge on distance learning for practical courses. In Latvia, a dedicated educational video channel (tavaklase.lv) was created, while in Romania a digital platform (digital.educred.ro) gathered relevant, validated and recommended e-learning platforms and online learning resources in one place.

Some countries took measures to identify and support disadvantaged learners in terms of access to online learning (Finland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden).

Provision for final exams

In VET, students in the final year of programmes were allowed access to schools to prepare and take their final exams, which were required for graduation. Some countries waived final exams and issued diplomas based on formative assessment, while others postponed exams.

In Slovakia, the procedure for organising the graduation from VET programmes was redefined by administrative act. In the Netherlands, exam organisation will be determined by individual school boards. In Germany, the competent bodies (chambers) ensured that final examinations would be held so that all apprentices can transition to working life no later than autumn 2020. In Finland, where assessment is based on skills demonstration at the workplace, workplace-like learning environments outside the education institution could be used instead, such as training providers’ own construction sites or teaching farms. In Denmark, schools were offered several options for organising final exams.

Arrangements to keep students engaged

In some countries, schools at different levels re-opened, where nationally defined hygiene standards and safety measures could be guaranteed. Apprentices continued working in companies where safety could be ensured, except for the sectors most affected by lockdown (hospitality, gastronomy, retail trade).

In the Netherlands, practical training in companies continued for both school-based and dual VET, while schools supervised learners remotely. In France, flexible arrangements were put in place for pupils, apprentices, jobseekers and employees to make sure they stay and complete their training programme. In Czechia, students preparing for professions in healthcare and social care were obliged to keep working and actively help in fighting the pandemic, either by working or volunteering. Several countries used VET to support public health services, for example by producing protective gear for health workers (Croatia, Hungary, Ireland).

Planning for the 2020/21 school year

Countries are now working on plans for the new school year. In light of the uncertainty and increasing number of Covid-19 cases over the summer, they will have to be ready with offline and online scenarios, taking into account lessons learned and addressing the challenges of the education systems revealed by the crisis.

In Germany, a recently published study foresees a sharp decrease of new apprenticeship contracts for 2020, while special support measures to keep the number of apprentices stable are being considered. In Malta, the Ministry for Education and Employment published comprehensive plans detailing arrangements for the start of the 2020/21 academic year.

Read more about each country’s experience, reflection on success factors, challenges and the way forward in Cedefop’s national VET news.