School Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Martin Fronc, PhD, former Minister of Education, Slovakia

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to close their gates. The compulsory education at schools will be interrupted for a long time. Therefore, we looked for an alternative system of education. Like in other countries, Slovakia has implemented the distance education as well. Owing to the advantages of the modern world, we have several tools for distance education which do not necessarily require personal contacts, such as the internet and – to some extent – public television broadcasting.

The distance education requires a purposeful approach. Such an attitude can be expected from adults or older students. Therefore, this type of education was conducted in the past among university students. We are already experienced in conducting distance education programs for this group. The system of distance education used to be implemented for pupils in secondary schools only exceptionally. When it comes to elementary schools, the distance education was not conducted in there due to the compulsory attendance at schools and thus we have no experience in it.

At any rate, the distance education for pupils in elementary schools is only an emergency solution and, in my opinion, it cannot replace standard education based on the regular school attendance. Nevertheless, this form of education is better than leaving pupils without any education at all in the long term.

It is necessary to be aware of the problems which have occurred due to the distance education.

Educational programs were created hastily and, literally, without any previous experience. In my country, Slovakia, the first runs of the new educational programs are initially conducted in the test mode, then they are evaluated and in the case of the positive evaluation, they are introduced into teaching. Obviously, this procedure is not feasible in the current situation. Like in other countries, Slovakia has a shortage of teachers with sufficient experience in the remote teaching.

The concentration of pupils of the first level of elementary school is significantly limited. Therefore, the distance education can be conducted only in short-time educational program. Finally, the recommendation for teachers is to focus on core subjects: languages, mathematics and additionally, natural science subjects.

The availability of technical equipment can also be a limiting factor for some pupils. Even though owning a computer is common today, it might not be the case of socially disadvantaged families. What is more, the stable high-speed internet is not available everywhere.

The problem with the distance education occurs also in large families, as they have to provide access to the internet to several children at the same time. In this case, an alternative solution could be applied – teaching in small groups. Obviously, such a solution is not possible when a hard lockdown is declared in the country. The development of the pandemic situation requires repeated restraint of social contacts and the prognosis is not optimistic. For this reason, I have an important note at the end. I appreciate the steps of the EU during this crisis supporting the member states experiencing a decline in their economies. However, I would very much welcome a support program of the EU in the field of education.