Every year on the 17th of November falls the International Students’ Day, a really important day for OBESSU and for students worldwide and an occasion to highlight our rights as students. Hence the name of our 17Now Campaign this year: “School Students’ Rights are not in a Lockdown”.
As you might expect, the focus has been on COVID-19: 1.5 billion students in the world have faced exceptional threats to their right to education. Many of the existing education deficits and inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but they come from a lack of structured investments and cuts on education funding of the past years.
What a challenging time to be a student - and what a challenging time to fight for students’ rights!
After several months of digital learning, the situation for many students has not changed at all. We cannot allow education systems to use COVID-19 as an excuse to give up on fundamental rights of students. As OBESSU, we want to highlight our demands for free, quality and inclusive education once again.
The participation of students in the decision making process is fundamental. As school students and learners representatives, we constantly need to seek opportunities to make our voices heard by decision makers. But this shouldn’t be the case, especially in policy areas related with education. We are the experts - not only we know best what are the needs, challenges and expectations of our peer school students and learners, but we can also bring concrete and valuable solutions to overcome current problems in our education systems, especially in this period of uncertainty.
Online learning requires students to have access to quality devices, such as laptops or tablets, and a stable internet connection. Many families struggled to provide their children with that equipment. Quality and stable internet connection to follow online classes cannot be taken for granted in all households, especially in rural areas. Governments and educational institutions should provide free and quality digital devices and internet connection for all students and learners and when this is not possible, they should provide public spaces such as classrooms or libraries with free devices and internet available for students without an ideal home learning environment. Moreover, with the shift to online and blended learning, the education system as a whole has become dependent on private, expensive online learning platforms. Many of these were first designed for companies and other workplace settings, therefore they fail to actively engage students and meet their needs. In particular, the needs of students with different learning requirements are not taken into account and the platforms used do not allow for an easy adaptation of alternative teaching methodologies. It is fundamental that educational authorities invest in the development of independent, online learning platforms which can provide a safe, inclusive and interactive space for all students to learn - without anyone or anything profiting from their personal data.
Throughout the lockdown, many students have faced mental health problems. Students and OBESSU members have reported an increase of anxiety, stress and headaches while learning from home. The social isolation, together with the lack of extracurricular activities to cope with lockdown created an incredible sense of loneliness. While the general mood of uncertainty has certainly played a key role, extra pressure was often put on the students’ shoulders by schools. In fact, students reported that schools often expected them to deliver the same results online as they did in traditional learning. Exams and assessments, despite the educational disruption, have not been postponed nor adapted to the situation. School dropouts percentages have risen during lockdown as a result of the confusion and the lack of motivation caused by the situation.
As OBESSU, we have been advocating for mental health education in schools for years, but this is still far from being a reality. It is fundamental that students receive quality mental health support, mentoring programmes and mental health education in national curricula. We demand a stop to the stigma towards mental health related issues and the recognition of those issues as highly impactful on school performance. Lastly, we demand schools and teachers to provide a safe space for students to socialise with their peers during online school time.
VET learners have been particularly impacted by governments’ measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. Vocational education institutions have been closed and so were many workplaces providing apprenticeships. As a result, VET learners have seen their learning path interrupted and have lost both time and motivation. To prevent this from happening in the future and to support the VET sector, we demand national governments invest substantial funds in digital innovation, as we believe it can help create digital readiness and resilient VET systems. We also demand financial support to all learners who experienced a loss of income due to the interruption of their apprenticeship and finally, we demand EU Member States promote Centers for Vocational Excellence with a focus on remote and rural areas.
School closures and the shift to distance learning have shown that teachers were not ready for online learning. Regardless of the country, many teachers lacked digital skills and struggled to adapt to the new teaching environment. Sadly, they did not receive enough support from governments and often had to improvise; this caused huge gaps in terms of teachers' involvement, online platforms used, assessments, etc. Our governments should stop wasting time and should provide teachers with free and quality training on digital skills, online learning and engagement methodologies instead. Additionally, we demand that teachers receive all the resources they need to teach remotely, including access to online collaborative platforms allowing them to share good practices and receive feedback from their peers. Finally, we think it is necessary that we all take into consideration the impact of this crisis on teachers’ well-being and that we acknowledge their hard work and dedication.
Yes, education is facing a huge crisis and now more than ever, it cannot be forgotten. School Students' Organizations all around Europe were active during our 17Now Campaign, because this is what we urgently need - actions! The education of billions of students worldwide is at stake. We ask all stakeholders, all politicians, all change-makers to take our demands into account and put them into action!