Els Van Raemdonck is an inspector of education at the Flemish Education Inspectorate in Belgium and is responsible for the theme group of inspectors for adult education. Due to the Covid19 crisis, the inspectors suspended all inspections to give the centers breathing space for their core tasks. All directors of the adult education centers and the centers for adult basic education received a call to find oud their needs and to support them in these difficult times.
EPALE: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Els Van Raemdonck: I have been an inspector of education at the Flemish Education Inspectorate since September 2011, but I started my career in adult education as a teacher of French / Spanish in 1984. After that I became a director-teacher of Spanish in an adult education center. As a director I participated in several Grundtvig projects and EU exchanges. At the Education Inspectorate I am responsible for the theme group for adult education inspectors.
How did the Covid19 crisis affect your work?
The Flemish Education Inspectorate decided to stop all remaining audits since the lockdown due to Covid-19 because we wanted to give the centers some breathing space and the opportunity to focus on their core tasks. Instead of the regular audits, the Inspectorate now offers support to all the institutions.
You decided to call all centers. How did you organize this with your colleagues?
At the request of the Flemish minister of education, we contacted each director by telephone between 21 April and 5 May. The purpose of this round was to map out the situation in the centers in order to provide the minister and policymakers with comprehensive and correct information about the functioning of the centers during the corona crisis. In addition, the Inspectorate wanted to offer a listening ear for the centers, to identify their concerns, answer questions, offer support etcera. We wanted to show the centers that "Brussels" cares about them. We contacted all 48 formal adult education centers and all 13 centers for adult basic education in Flanders. The phone calls lasted about 1 hour.
We published a report on the outcome and results of this call round 'Belronde volwassenenonderwijs (6 mei 2020)' that can be found at www.onderwijsinspectie.be
What came out of this round of calls?
The adult education centers see themselves as "companies in need" and asked the government for clarity about the timing of a restart and about the start-up modalities. The centers and its teams made considerable efforts to reach out to all learners and to offer distance learning, but for some courses this wasn't easy to do. Particularly in courses with an essential practical component a significant part of the curriculum cannot be realized through distance learning. Vulnerable students, especially in second chance education and intensive courses of the Dutch as a second language beginner modules, often do not have the options to participate online and drop out. The centers, which depend on the number of registrations for their subsequent financing, therefore requested government subsidies for course participants and staff. The future of the centers, which had focused la lot on a significant increase in scale, looks bleak. They urgently require a clear scenario and a clear perspective for the future.
How did the centers for adult basic education fare?
The Basic Education Centers and their teams do not offer formal distance learning, but have made significant efforts to reach out to all learners, explain them the corona measures, help them deal with the consequences and mentally support them. They stimulate students to repeat and practice. Although the centers succeed in this better than initially expected, they nevertheless ran into the limits of the possibilities. In addition to concerns about the impact of the crisis on the learners, they also have concerns about the future of their centers and staff. Since the centers depend on the number of registrations for their subsequent financing, they also requested government subsidies for course participants and staff. They urgently required a decision and clear communication about the timing of a restart and the start-up modalities, with a feasible scenario for the centers and a safe future perspective.
How did you experience the atmosphere in the centers for adult education and basic education?
The centers do everything what is in their power to reach their students and to offer (new) learning materials for distance learning. In many centers, this represents a huge step forward in rolling out distance learning, as there is no other option. Teachers and teams work through different platforms and exhaust all digital possibilities to get in touch with students. For a number of courses with an essential practical component, however, the teams run against limits. Despite all their efforts it is sometimes very difficult for the teams to reach and stimulate their learners, especially vulnerable people who do not have the necessary infrastructure. That is sometimes frustrating for the teams. The centers are particularly uncertain about the restart and the future of adult education.
Did they tell how their students are doing in this crisis?
Centers indicate that the percentage of students they can reach differs per teaching module and is determined by the characteristics of the target group, their living conditions, their digital competences and the available infrastructure. Especially for the centers for basic education, the language barrier for foreign-language students is a major problem in keeping contact. What particularly struck me during this call round was the tremendous dedication and flexibility of the staff and learners in Flanders during this corona crisis. There is a strong focus on distance learning, but the centers experience restrictions for practical training and for target groups that do not have the necessary infrastructure.