Report COVID

Preventing a lockdown generation

Joint report prepared by ETF and UNICEF

In an effervescent conversation on a Facebook live event (December 9) participants from the European Training Foundation, UNICEF, and a student representative discussed how the younger generation coped with the unprecedented era of Covid-19, the abrupt transition to online learning, and how to move forward. The one-hour discussion could easily have extended to several, given the number of issues to be discussed and the enthusiastic audience participation from countries ranging from Egypt to Georgia. The event came ahead of the official launch in January 2021 of a report conducted jointly by the European Training Foundation and UNICEF entitled Preventing a ‘Lockdown Generation’ in Europe and Central Asia.

Sixteen-year-old student Anda Andrisca from Romania said online learning at first was very chaotic and in some respects remains so. As an active teenager she found it very difficult to remain sitting inside although she appreciated being able to sleep a little later than usual in the morning.

Both Nina Ferencic from UNICEF and Anastasia Fetsi from ETF who worked on the report said it had been decided from the start that researchers would not only look at statistics but engage young people. This resulted in the participation of 15,000 students who expressed their views on their own education and prospects, which will be reflected in the report.

This lockdown generation, said Nina Ferencic, “should be called the creative virtual generation. They will help the world reimagine education. They will guide us to come up with solutions that work.”

Anastasia Fetsi underlined that ETF, which has been working for years on understanding the skills needed for the future, had already underlined the importance of soft skills besides technical skills, and the advent of the pandemic only confirmed the need for creativity and entrepreneurship alongside digital literacy. Covid-19 “made us confront our slow pace of change and created new momentum to move faster to integrate digital technology into the process. We have to build on this momentum.”

Will education return to its traditional ways?

While Anda Andrisca said she thought it would, she noted “I hope these months were ones of reflection to think about problems in education and make the system more inclusive and more welcoming for everyone.”

Inclusivity was an important topic, said Nina Ferencic—now is the time to rethink education. Young people revealed that digital learning had been an equalizer—they were able to access education in places they wouldn’t normally be able to. In particular, people with disabilities enjoyed being able to participate more often in online classes or events. However, even if the digital sphere is a natural environment for most young people, major inequities still exist and making sure everyone has access to digital learning is vital.

A key finding of the report is that teachers and those involved in education must engage differently with young people, using creative mechanisms for dialogue that are sustainable. Young people should be listened to and feel they have the ability to influence decisions; a bridge between young people and governments needs to be created. Collaboration with young people is essential, working together and connecting the dots. “This will be a rite of passage in all societies. Covid has accelerated this in many positive ways,” said Nina Ferencic.

Anda Andrisca also stressed the need for communication between students and adults. “Sometimes…it feels like it’s us versus the authorities even if we should be on the same side working to improve things…It feels like we’re talking, or protesting about climate change, or corruption, and our voices are heard but not listened to.”

As far as helping people shift to a new way of learning, it has become evident that lifelong learning is another essential skill, that teachers will need as well. In the spirit of intergenerational cooperation and exchange, older teachers who may not have digital skills or may be used to a top-down culture will need new tools in order to engage with their students. It’s also necessary for governments and administrations to give value to teachers and see them as agents of change.

Anda Andrisca added that she felt her relationship with her teachers evolved during the pandemic—they were more empathetic and tried to understand what their students were going through, and as a result, students felt closer to them.

In closing, the participants came up with a few key words they felt were important for the future of education: perspective, collaboration, inclusion, empowerment and optimism.


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