COVID-19 impact on the Republic of Moldova: how inclusive and efficient is the online learning process?

The Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE), in partnership with Privesc.eu and with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation, organized on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, the third online videoconference dedicated to the analysis of the online teaching and learning process during the crisis related to the spread of the new virus COVID-19 in the Republic of Moldova.

The debate was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Education, civil society, analysts in the field of education, representatives of youth organizations, teachers and students from high schools in the country. In their interventions, the speakers referred in particular to the response measures of the Moldovan authorities to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the education system, technical solutions that have been developed so far to facilitate the training of students in the online format, urgent needs for teachers / students in rural and urban areas, but the role of teachers, students and parents in the online education process.

Please find below the key interventions of the speakers.

Natalia Grâu, State Secretary, Ministry of Education, Culture and Research: “Our ministry was affected by the crisis and we made several decisions to protect students and teachers, but also to ensure functionality and continuity educational process. The first measure was to provide a regulatory framework capable of mitigating this challenge. At the level of the Education Code, there are no regulations on distance learning for general schools and in very quick terms  we have drafted this framework for all levels of education. Methodologies have been developed to ensure the distance learning process. We are doing well in this regard. The second important thing was to ensure access to education for all children and then we had three valuable points that we had to strengthen. The first was the training of teachers, who overnight had to change their educational process and we must recognize that they were not prepared for the distance learning process. We came up with different trainings for the use of digital platforms, free and secure. In this context, we conducted surveys and monitor the situation on a weekly basis. Another challenge was connecting students to the internet and offer them the necessary IT tools. We know that in the first week over 18,000 children did not participate in the educational process, but also 3,000 teachers did not have a device to work on. In this regard, 20 million lei have been identified from budgetary resources that will be redirected for the purchase of laptops for teachers and students, who have a poor financial condition. We do not know how long this pandemic will last and how it will evolve, so we all understand that the priority now is the health of children and teachers.

Roman Banari, Secretary General, National Youth Council of Moldova (CNTM): “The global spread of the virus has affected us, but this should not be an excuse when we talk about the quality of education and ensuring that all young people and children have access to education tools. Thus, this is one of the principles within the global development goals, which says that no one should be left behind. In this context, we launched three surveys related to education. In the latest survey, related to the distance education process during the pandemic, more than 5,000 respondents said that problems related to the quality of distance education persist. Another problem noted is that, unfortunately, teachers are not prepared to use digital tools. The students noticed that they do their homework on paper and pass it on to the teacher and they have a lot of literature that they have to read individually. It is a way of learning, but not of ensuring the qualitative education. Thus, a solution would be the maximum digitalization of education and the provision of educational platforms, where they have access to both video materials and opportunities for digital evaluation of students.

Michelle Iliev, Project Coordinator, Pro Didactica Center: “We have to differentiate between online tools and distance learning ones, because they are two slightly different processes. I would like to make a retrospective on the project developed for vocational and technical education, conducted by our center. Before this pandemic, half a year ago, we worked on a program that aimed to empower teachers in vocational education with these digital skills that we are talking about now. Once we finished it, we were put in the online driving situation and in the last weeks, the team of experts has already piloted some modules. Thus, we developed a system from learning, starting with how to develop a teaching module to using certain digital tools. We aim to go further with these teachers, who are involved in the project, to see how they assimilate information and to develop digital content, to provide open educational resources for everyone to use. Another example is the project that is led by the Chisinau City Hall, through which over 2000 online lessons were developed. This offers the chance for teachers, but also for students and parents, to be able to access video lessons without having an internet connection or very sophisticated equipment, especially since they were also designed for television stations”.

Sergiu Corlat, Teacher, “Orizont” High School: “Even though distance learning has a long history, it was never intended to be used for the schooling system. Now we have found ourselves in the situation when it must be used for everyone, starting with preschool, high school and university institutions. But there cannot be a single approach for all age groups. Depending on the level of schooling, the way of organizing educational activities must be different. What is happening in the education system now is largely a short-term solution, because regular lessons have been replaced by online lessons, and this does not mean that distance learning is done with all regular components. It is not a problem to get the didactic message from teachers to students. There are different channels for this. It is a matter of testing how the material is assimilated. It is a problem to help the student to receive support in the situation when the learning process is stopped or slowed down. Here, we come to the aspects related to how the educational process is organized. It’s easy to do 40-minute lessons. It is not enough to have resources that give offer us an understanding of theoretical subjects. Here, information technology would be the tool that could help. “

 Alex Leahu, Teacher, “Spiru Haret” High School, Chisinau: “I was one of the first to apply the online teaching process. It was a pretty painful process for me and the students. First of all, it is not about teaching, but about educating the responsibilities and tools they have to use, but also about rules of behavior in the online environment. Once we solved one problem in this process, another came along. The first issue was student accountability. The second problem was the understanding of digital tools. Things were much more complicated because students do not feel any consequences if they will not participate in the online classes, for example, or be passively connected This was complicated at the beginning, but now it is going better”.

 Valeria Ciolac, Student, “Mihai Eminescu” High School, Balti: “In my opinion, the Moldovan education system was not prepared for such transformations and to overcome this crisis. Until the pandemic, not enough digital skills for teachers and students were developed. On the contrary, for example, in computer science we were taught to build models and algorithms in Pascal, but we were not taught essential things, which are indispensable in the distance learning process. This is why I believe that the Ministry of Education should review its vision and include these digital components in the post-pandemic curriculum, or today’s education must equip students with the necessary skills for tomorrow’s world. In order to better understand what my colleagues think about online learning, I conducted a survey last week, with a sample of 200 students from eight educational institutions in the north of the country. Thus, 56% of respondents rated the efficiency of distance learning as unsatisfactory. By answering the question “what obstacles do students face in distance learning”, I received many answers, such as, “I notice vision problems, dizziness, to stay 10-12 hours a day” or “I’m at school all day and sometimes I don’t even have time to eat.” However, despite this shock, I believe that our education system is doing well and it is encouraging that different organizations have increased their efforts to create various online, tools as well as televised lessons.”

For more details you can watch the video recording of the event here.

The event was organized within the project “EU DEBATES CAFÉ: Advancing knowledge and expertise on EU institutions and policies in the Republic of Moldova”, implemented by IPRE in cooperation with the Hanns Seidel Foundation in the Republic of Moldova and with the financial support of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.