Corona crisis becoming an education crisis?

In many European countries, school pupils have been taught online at home for several weeks because schools were closed in the efforts to fight the pandemic. But not all children have a computer of their own, or even access to the Internet. European media stress that this has exacerbated social inequalities, but also urge caution in the process of reopening schools.

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Libération (FR) /

Steps must be carefully planned

France intends to gradually reopen schools starting May 11. Students who are at a disadvantage when it comes to home learning are to be among the first to return. Such a policy requires thorough consultation with all parties, Libération warns:

“Teachers have only one fear, namely to be forced to make do with the means now at their disposal. … Families, meanwhile, are afraid to send their children to school. Both groups must be heeded, the situation does not allow for risks. At this stage of the epidemic, it was necessary to give the people a goal, a glimmer of hope. And that's what Emmanuel Macron has done. Now these goals must be made concrete, and not just on TV.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Education must take priority

Taboos must be set aside to bring the school year to a good conclusion, Ulf Porschardt, editor-in-chief of Die Welt urges:

“Pupils may have to catch up on missed syllabus content during the scheduled summer holidays, and especially in schools with a large number of children from disadvantaged families the worst-case scenario of a complete absence of schooling during the shutdown must be assumed. Letting the weakest children repeat the year, as proposed by the Teachers' Association, is the wrong approach. No matter how bitter the economic damage caused by this Covid-19 crisis is, the right to a comprehensive education must not be neglected. ... Covid-19 is a rendezvous with the complexity of the present. In order to understand it, we need a society that is as well educated as possible. ... That's why the subject of schools and daycare centres must be in the top-three box in all exit scenarios.”

Lrt (LT) /

The utopia of digital education

Natalija Arlauskaitė, professor of politics at Vilnius University, describes on Lrt how three weeks of online learning in Lithuania have debunked conservative utopias:

“Above all it has become clear that both teaching and studying require good circumstances, good technology and good internet connections. Circumstances can include many things, for example a private niche where one can work, a 'room of one's own', as Virginia Woolf writes, without which nothing can be achieved. However, this is far from being self-evident, either for students or teachers. ... We soon realised (and it's a good thing, too) that the utopia of digital education, which was supposed to be egalitarian, stems from very bourgeois concepts that are blind to social and economic inequalities.”

Público (ES) /

Online teaching makes the poor poorer

In Spain, teaching has been taking place online for the last five weeks. The Education Ministry's plans to include the last trimester which ends in June in the overall assessment will only aggravate class differences, complains Coral Latorre, president of Spain's Students' Union, in Público:

“The ministry is still refusing to recognise a fact which is obvious to everyone, namely that the school year has already ended. ... Online teaching excludes a large part of low-income families. Hence part of the curriculum which has not been taught on equal terms will be evaluated. Anyone who ignores this fact is turning a blind eye to the growing gap in the education system and relying on a model that has left public schooling in a critical condition and pushed dropout rates to the highest level in a European comparison.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Indifferent education politicians

Many young people in Italy are falling by the wayside, warns historian Ernest Galli della Loggia in Corriere della Sera:

“In the general complacency about online schooling one dramatic fact has remained in the shadows: more than a third of pupils cannot benefit from such learning because they don't have a computer or Internet access at home. It goes without saying that this third includes the children of the most disadvantaged families, namely those in southern Italy and young immigrants. ... The Ministry of Education is, however, utterly indifferent to all this, failing to realise that this is widening the gap between social classes.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Major efforts needed to address social imbalances

The crisis highlights just how precarious the condition of certain children is, Die Presse points out:

“Teachers haven't had access to children in so-called hotspot schools, mostly from migrant backgrounds, for weeks. Child protection services have noted with alarm that children in violent families are in danger. And that in poverty-stricken households where parents may hardly be able to help with learning the children are at risk of being left behind in their studies. Here the crisis is forcing people to take action, with the result that major efforts are being made to reach all children and provide them with points of contact. And to provide children from poor families with the equipment they need to participate in e-learning.”

Új Szó (SK) /

Pressure makes innovation possible

The results that the education system is now producing under considerable pressure show how superfluous many of the usual reform debates are, journalist Pál Szombathy writes in Új Szó:

“Society is getting to know itself anew. We will see how disciplined it is and whether it can set aside all the usual complaining and futile debates. And we will see how mobile and innovative it is. The sudden obligation of distance learning is an excellent example. The problem had to be solved within a few days. And so, albeit slowly at first, something is now working which would never have worked in peacetime, even after years of preparation and thousands of discussions.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Even revered institutions are changing

Le Monde points out how quickly old rules and systems can suddenly change, also in the school system:

“When in a few years' time we draw up a list of the changes that the Covid-19 pandemic engendered or accelerated, the baccalaureate - or high-school leaving exams, a French monument par excellence - will no doubt be included. The announcement by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer on Friday, April 3, that the traditional year-end tests would be cancelled and replaced by the average grades obtained throughout the school year would be a revolution if it occurred in normal times. Neither the Nazi occupation nor May 68 put a complete stop to the exams.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Kids can learn online but they can't grow up there

Isolation at home is particularly hard for the young, explains psychologist and educationalist Allan Guggenbühl in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“They see school as a place where they can meet others of their same age and practice independence. You can exchange news with your classmates, gossip, flirt, fool around, complain about teachers and parents and simply be together. ... Under the radar of the adults, counter-worlds are created that are important for the development of one's own identity. ... This importance role of school helps many young people achieve emotional stability. ... Online learning and contacts are temporary aids, but they are not enough to get through this difficult time. Adolescents must also be supported in their psycho-emotionality.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Children are not a private matter

Birgit Schatz, children's ombudsperson with SOS Children's Villages, calls in Der Standard for state aid for working parents with children:

“Despite their special situation, children and their parents are not targeted by the government's aid measures. To say nothing of poor families that face even more difficult challenges. ... A little more help would be appropriate. ... For example, the introduction of paid parental leave, whereby parents look after their children at home with the consent of their employers and the state finances this with allowances equal to unemployment benefit. That would relieve employers of wage costs while guaranteeing that parents can make a living. ... Children and their care are not just a private matter!”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Teachers need summer holidays more than ever

Finland and other countries are discussing the possibility of shortening the summer holidays in order to partially compensate for school closures. Helsingin Sanomat sees this as a bad idea:

“The heroes in the corona crisis are those who maintain social structures and keep people alive with their work. School and kindergarten teachers are part of the backbone of society. ... They're conscientious and try to give all they've got. But the risk is that they'll grow weary. ... Education Minister Li Andersson has said that teachers shouldn't be too hard on themselves if all the targets set out in the curriculum can't be achieved. This message must be supplemented with details in the coming weeks, because teachers can't decide for themselves what cuts to make to the curriculum. Shortening the summer holidays would do them a disservice.”