The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how we live our lives. Across Europe, everything from work, leisure and travel has been affected, and it’s no different for schooling. For months during lockdown, schools, colleges, and universities shut their doors and online lessons became the new normal. But education doesn't stop at the school gates, and educators everywhere have been doing their utmost to ensure their students don't miss out.

Here are seven stories.

Belgium

Belgium

Florence Defourny

Florence Defourny © Technocité, 2020

This is Florence Defourny. She’s a careers counsellor at the Creative Industries Knowledge Centre, Technocité, close to the city of Mons in Belgium’s Wallonia region. She works with adult learners and job seekers to help them develop the skills needed to work in digital and creative industries.

However, the pandemic brought to a halt everything she and her colleagues had worked for. During the first national lockdown in spring, educational institutions across the country were closed for months. For Technocité, this meant only one thing: readjust quickly or face closure.

With €3.3 million in EU funding, Technocité was able to reinvent its working methods. All classes were moved online, which meant that students could continue to follow their courses remotely.

“Thanks to EU funding, our classes were back and online in the space of 2 days, and 7 out of 9 courses training courses could continue as usual.”

Florence and her trainees

Florence and her trainees ©Technocité, 2020

Despite the challenges, Florence and her mentees have drawn many positives from the experience. Even working in a virtual environment, many students seized the opportunity to talk with others and continue training for a future career.

“We have changed the way we teach, adapted to the future of e-learning and in doing so discovered novel ways to get our messages across.”
Croatia

Croatia

Ivana

Ivana © Carnet, 2020

Meet Ivana Mažar Marušić. She’s a teacher at Dragutin Tadijanović Primary School in Vukovar, Croatia. Because of the pandemic, teachers were asked to switch to distance learning and online education for students began.

“Everyone had to make extra effort to ensure the transition was a success.”

The EU worked with CARNET (the Croatian Academic and Research Network), to equip schools across the country with high-tech classrooms. 920 teachers and over 6,000 students were provided with access to laptops, tablets, presentation equipment and better connectivity. And that’s just the first phase of the three-year e-Schools pilot project. In the next phase, 700 primary and secondary schools – half of all Croatian schools – will be kitted out with distance-learning equipment before the end of 2022.

For Ivana and many other teachers in Croatia, EU support means that pupils can continue to learn from home, and schools are ready to face the future, whatever the challenges it throws up.

“With the help of the EU and CARNET, we have reached a new level of education and changed the concept of teaching forever.”
Czechia

Czechia

Jiří Nekola

Jiří Nekola © NPI ČR, 2020

This is Jiří Nekola, a project manager at SYPO: the System of Support for the Professional Development of Teachers and School Heads, which is implemented by the Czech National Pedagogical Institute.

During lockdown, it is not just students receiving online lessons - the teachers themselves are taught on their own virtual support tool. The EU-funded SYPO project offers them webinars and online resources.

Due to the many social, economic and psychological hardships of the lockdown, it is more important than ever to keep young people connected with their studies and everyday routines. This is why the EU and the Czech National Pedagogical Institute put so much emphasis on developing teachers’ capacity to connect in these new conditions.

“We paid special attention to the education of teachers in the areas of online teaching and online communication.”

The tool has been well used, with more than 150,000 views for the webinars and many teachers sharing their own experiences in a dedicated forum. Teachers and pupils both benefit with this online learning. Although if you ask the students, they might say the teachers got a taste of their own medicine!

Cyprus and Greece

Online training © Sea of experience, 2021

Online training © Sea of experience, 2021

It starts with an intriguing name – the Sea of Experience. Coordinated by Nikos Ventikos, this EU-funded project is establishing a training and mentorship programme for young professionals living in Cyprus and Greece who are interested in the blue economy: maritime transport, ship building and repair, ports and the cruise industry.

The Eastern Mediterranean has a booming maritime sector with lots of jobs on offer. However, many businesses looking to hire are facing the same challenge: not enough candidates have industry knowledge. That’s where Sea of Experience comes in, to bridge the skills gap between the education on offer and the labour market needs.

The project had only been up and running for 1 year when the coronavirus crisis struck, but that didn’t scare off Nikos and his team. Workshops moved online and an e-platform was created. It is filled with digital resources such as virtual reality videos, digital competitions, training tools and forums where students can chat with their classmates and project mentors.

“Sea of Experience has a range of coronavirus-proof solutions to keep training, teaching and mentoring going, while we operate in this ‘new normal’ environment,” says Nikos.

Despite the challenge, Nikos is confident that the project will be successful in helping European maritime communities recover from the crisis.

Latvia

Latvia

Marta Muižniece

Marta Muižniece © European Commission, 2020

This is Marta Muižniece, a student from Latvia. She and 230 other students from 15 universities and colleges took part in a nationwide online challenge called CrisisLab. The purpose was to solve problems related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Together with her team, Marta developed a digital platform to enhance the quality of e-learning for students and teachers alike.

“I was amazed by what could be done by students working remotely on complex problems.”

Overall, 24 ideas were developed, including a health monitoring bracelet for coronavirus patients; a single-use patient transportation system; and environmentally friendly packaging that can be used as an alternative to plastic. €20,000 was awarded for the further development of the best CrisisLab solutions.

The programme, which is funded by the EU’s “Innovation Grants for Students” project, encourages innovative thinking, creative skills, and entrepreneurship, and serves as a model for how Europe’s next generation can help us overcome today’s challenges.

Poland

Poland

Arkadiusz Nowalski

Arkadiusz Nowalski © UMSejny, 2020

Arkadiusz Nowalski is the mayor of Sejny, a small town in the east of Poland. Throughout the lockdown, as many children lacked equipment and internet access, municipalities like his decided to distribute laptops and tablets, and set up mobile internet so that children could take part in their classes online.

The help came as part of the remote school initiative, which was launched in spring with €80 million support from the European Union in order to keep education running.

“The remote school initiative has enabled our children to learn at home without any obstacles. This is a very big deal.”

New laptops

New laptops © Centrum Projektów Polska Cyfrowa, 2020 rok

Arkadiusz is grateful that the funds arrived so quickly. At first his municipality was prepared to cut other projects for 2020 in order to buy computers for students from less affluent families. However, with EU support, schools across Poland are now in a better position to enter the digital age in education. To date, more than 23,000 schools have received support, with more than 335,000 pupils benefitting.

Portugal

Portugal

Hugo Marques

Hugo Marques @Hugo_Marques/EPRAL_2020

Meet Hugo Marques, the coordinator of a multimedia course at EPRAL, the Vocational School of Alentejo in Évora, Portugal.

Thanks to the EU, EPRAL students and teachers got funding to boost the quality of their education. With this support, students were able to develop and present their technical multimedia projects via new online tools, and communicate with their teachers and examiners via video calls.

“Education as we know it will never be the same. We need to retrain our teachers to make use of remote learning technology so we can provide a better, safer, more accessible and more attractive education for our trainees.”