During the outbreak of COVID-19, a key measure implemented by governments across the world has been the closure of schools, forcing students to temporarily continue their education from home. While many schools have risen to the challenge and developed efficient remote schooling, others have fallen behind, leaving learners with special needs without access to a quality education. As schools begin to open under the threat of a resurgence of the virus, it is crucial that authorities and schools ensure the continued education of their students, including those with disabilities, by building the capacities of teachers, learners, parents and support service providers to utilize the opportunities of digital learning tools.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the need to uphold social distancing measures has forced many sectors to move online and the education sector has been no different. The uptake of online platforms and digital learning tools have been central actions that schools have implemented to teach their students remotely. Despite holding many opportunities, these online tools have also posed challenges to those who have little prior experience or knowledge in using them. While many schools have adapted quickly, in order to provide learners, including those with disabilities, with access to learning opportunities from a distance, other schools have fallen behind, putting the education and inclusion of learners at risk.
Working with support service providers, learners and their families, schools and authorities have a responsibility to ensure that all pupils have access to the resources and technology that they need to continue their education and develop alongside their peers. EASPD’s latest webinar, ‘Ensuring access to education during COVID-19’ highlighted the importance of support service providers, as key partners, in facilitating the continued access to education during the pandemic. Having also adapted and utilized the opportunities of online platforms, these support service providers are providing a plethora of online resources and remote support to both schools, learners with disabilities and their families during COVID-19.
While online platforms and digital tools hold many opportunities, they require that students and their families, schools and services have access to hardware and digital infrastructure as well as relying on users to hold the appropriate training on how to use these tools. Looking to the future, it is crucial that authorities work quickly to increase the access to digital resources as well as the capacity of stakeholders to maximize the potential of technology. Addressing this challenge will remain a pressing issue as schools begin to move back to teaching in classrooms. With resurgences of the viruses and ongoing social distancing measures likely, it is not enough for schools to simply look to ‘fill the gap’ that the initial lockdown has created in student’s education. Instead they must prepare for future periods of remote learning, to ensure that future resurgences of the virus does not send further shockwaves through learners’ education development.
Authorities must also look to close a second gap, that between well performing and underperforming schools. Such struggling schools require greater support, to ensure that their pupils do not feel disproportionately the negative repercussions on their education on the long-term.
While education remains a competence of Member States, the European Union should be leading the way and supporting them as they address the consequences of the outbreak. The open method of coordination remains a key tool through which countries can work together streamline their response by providing agreed solutions and innovative strategies. The European Semester process also has an important role to play in promoting reform and raising the quality of Europe’s education systems. The Semester’s most recent Country Specific Recommendations have already begun to do this for some counties. Looking forward to the next cycle, EASPD encourages the EU to go further, to ensure that more Member States take greater action to build the capacity of stakeholders and increases access to digital resources.
Moving forward, the EU’s Updated Skills Agenda for Europe must address the need for teachers and educational support services to be equipped with digital skills. It is also crucial that as the European Union moves into its next budgeting cycle, the Erasmus+ programme continues to enable the training of schools, teachers and service providers, to increase their capacity to use online platforms and digital technologies.
- Snapshot Report: Impact of COVID-19 on Disability Services in Europe
- EASPD’s updates on the COVID-19
- EASPD and EAN open letter on Ensuring EU Response to COVID-19 tackles threat of social care emergency
- EASPD Priorities for EU Response to COVID-19 regarding threat to Social Service Provision
- Joining Forces! EASPD COVID-19 Support Space
- Online Policy debate Register now: Inclusive education: What role for the EU in the way forward?
Note to editors
The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organization, established in 1996, and currently representing over 17,000 social and health services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.