Reflections on 2020 and looking ahead

At the end of 2020, we look back on a turbulent year for education and training systems worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for its aftermath.

Changes ushered in to maintain learning have marked a turning point in the uptake of distance digital learning offering potential to enhance access and better respond to the needs of learners. Nevertheless, issues remain concerning the quality of the education and training provided, and equity in terms of who can benefit from which type of education and training, and who is excluded.

The ETF mapping of the COVID-19 impact has shown that the pandemic reinforced already existing challenges of engaging and catering to the needs of those from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Ensuring adequate internet connection, equipment, and surroundings conducive to learning for everyone are critical issues causing concern.

Moreover, vocational education and training has suffered from a shortage of digital content on technical and specialist subjects, and learners have missed out on the valuable practice-based components of their courses.

The ETF’s events such as webinars and Facebook Live interviews, as part of our #learningconnects campaign, provided opportunities to exchange experience and practice amongst policy makers and practitioners throughout 2020. We conveyed perspectives from various stakeholders from the public, private and civic spheres at both national and international level who revealed, in spite of the difficulties, an explosion of creativity, innovation and ingenuity amongst education systems, schools, teachers and learners in response to the crisis.

Preparations for the future

In September 2020 the European Commission announced its vision of the European Education Area to be achieved by 2025 which consists of six dimensions: quality, inclusion and gender equality, green and digital transitions, teachers, higher education, and a stronger Europe in the world. Within this context a new Digital Education Action Plan was adopted which reflects lessons learned from the coronavirus crisis and aims for a high-performing digital education ecosystem.

Targeted actions and resources are foreseen for the EU’s neighbouring regions due to the exacerbated inequalities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic as highlighted in the ETF’s mapping reports.

The European Union adopted the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans in October 2020. Flagships include investments in the private sector to boost competitiveness and innovation of small and medium-sized companies and a Youth Guarantee.

In addition, the Osnabrück Declaration was agreed by EU stakeholders at a ministerial virtual meeting on 30 November. The Declaration paves the way forward for vocational education and training for EU member states and candidate countries after the Riga conclusions of 2015. Policy actions for the period of 2021-25 are set out which support the EU's Council recommendation on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience. The ETF will support the implementation of actions in the Osnabrück Declaration in the EU's candidate countries.

Looking ahead

Skills intelligence systems, governance and financing arrangements, quality assurance mechanisms, flexible learning pathways, innovative learning methods, new partnerships and sectoral approaches will be at the top of the ETF agenda in the months and years to come. The ETF plays a vital role in ensuring that the support offered by the EU to partner countries contributes to sustainable reforms of education, training and labour market systems to empower all citizens, in particular the most vulnerable, to acquire the skills they need to overcome the current challenges.

In 2021, we will look closer at emerging trends in learning and at changing skills demand and consider the building blocks of lifelong learning that countries need to put in place to face the challenges of the future. These issues will be the focus of our international conference entitled “Lifelong Learning Systems: Skills for Green and Inclusive Societies in the Digital Era” in June 2020.

We thank you for your support and look forward to continued engagement with all our stakeholders in 2021 in moving forward the education and training and skills agenda in our partner countries. 

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