Twinning: Cooperation in education sector in Moldova during COVID-19 crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic, which erupted in the spring, has placed ongoing Twinning projects in a new situation, which led to the introduction of digital tools and reorganisation of activities. Many projects have been suspended due to the COVID-10 crisis. One of these is the Enhancing the quality and effectiveness of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system, a Twinning project carried out in Moldova by Finland together with Estonia and Lithuania.The project has managed to reach a wide number of people representing both secondary and tertiary education. In the picture, Esko Lius from Omnia is talking about teachers’ digital skills with Project Manager Oxana Draguta from ProDidactica, a Moldovan civil society organisation in the education sector. The seminar was attended by about a hundred teachers and students from vocational institutions and universities. Picture: Karl Holm.
The COVID-19 situation escalated in Moldova in March. The country quickly imposed severe restrictive measures and many sectors in society were under lockdown at the end of the month. At the time, the two-year Twinning project carried out by Finland, Estonia and Lithuania, which had been launched in March 2019, was halfway through the project cycle. The first year had proceeded largely according to plan and the majority of the measures were well under way.
The goals of the project are related to the development of quality assurance mechanisms for upper secondary vocational education and life-long learning as well as to improving the preconditions for cooperation between vocational institutions and business life. The main partners in the project from Finland are the Joint Authority of Education in the Espoo Region (Omnia) and the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC).
Prompt decision to suspend the project
The decision to interrupt the project was made in early April. The European Union Delegation to Moldova (EUD) in Chisinau wanted to suspend the project at only a couple of days’ notice, but representatives of the EU Member States rejected the idea. Based on a proposal made by Finland, Estonia and Lithuania, the project was suspended starting on 1 May for three months. Resident Twinning Adviser in Chisinau Karl Holm from the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre returned to Finland in mid-April. The Finnish Embassy in Bucharest, which represents Finland also in Moldova, helped Holm return to Finland. The Embassy's overall support for the project was commended by Holm.
“On the initiative of the EU Delegation to Moldova, decisions were finally made very quickly. We would have liked further consideration and we also offered to use digital solutions to be able to continue the project but, at this phase, the Delegation prioritised as swift suspension of the project as possible. In April, we made a plan to relaunch the project. Our discussions on the continuation of the project with the project’s beneficiary proceeded smoothly,” Holm says.
The time when the activities were interrupted was used as effectively as possible by reviewing and updating the monitoring and reporting materials and by preparing an overview of the progress made so far. This proved particularly useful when the work plan was updated later. Even though the project team managed to use the time to their advantage, the COVID-19 situation made it extremely difficult to predict what was coming, and there were serious concerns about the existence of preconditions for continuing the project. Continuing uncertainty about what will happen next has been the most difficult matter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we decided to interrupt the project, no one knew how long the situation will continue. We were genuinely concerned about whether the project can be continued after the suspension. When we started to make arrangements to be able to relaunch the project, we were as uncertain about what will happen as before,” says Director General of the Joint Authority of Education in the Espoo Region Sampo Suihko, who is the Project Manager.
Relaunch is demanding
In July, collecting responses to the requests for additional documentation made by the EU Delegation meant a concrete step in preparing the project’s relaunch. The project was officially relaunched on 1 August.
“We started to update our work plan at the beginning of August. We also had to consider in more detail how well we have achieved the set goals and what our future priorities will be. A three-month interruption of activities does not mean only delaying the amount of work to be done in a three-month period to be done a later time—the impacts are much more wide-ranging,” says Holm.
Holm and Suihko are particularly satisfied with the good cooperation with the educational institutions and providers of education and training before the project was suspended. For example, teachers’ commitment has been exemplary and the results have been good. It is hoped that the project will see similar results even though the work plan has been revised and re-scheduled in several respects.
The project’s steering committee met remotely for the first time at the end of August. “I felt that the steering committee hadn’t met for ages. Representatives of the project consortium participated in the meeting from their home offices, representatives of the beneficiary were in different parts of Moldova, and representatives of the EU Delegation to Moldova sat in Chisinau. An interpreter took part in the meeting remotely as well. Even though the participants were in different locations, the meeting proceeded smoothly. The meeting served as a kind of concrete transition to working remotely,” Sampo Suihko notes.In Moldova, 11 upper secondary vocational
education institutions have been transformed
into Centres of Excellence, which are inter alia
tasked to forward information about best practices
to the about 60 vocational institutions. During a visit
to a Centre of Excellence in the transport sector,
a local car technology expert presented the activities
of the centre to Karl Holm (right) and Jari Metsämuuronen
from the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (left).
Picture: Veronica Midari.
From digital leap to digital triple jump
The steering group adopted the work plan and decided that it will be in force until the end of January. It also decided that teleworking will be used at least for the rest of the year 2020. The first remote training session was organised on the second but last week of September. The themes discussed included, among other things, digital skills required for distance learning and assessment of learning outcomes in digital environments.
The challenges arising from teleworking are recognised and joint efforts to resolve problems have been taken. The strong digital skills in Omnia and the fact that Finland had temporarily switched to digital learning in the spring helped in the project at this stage. The experiences gained of the digital leap were of much use in the Twinning context, too.
“As a whole, the transition took place without problem. A transition like this helps all parties to understand what it is like to teach remotely. Even the more experienced experts in digital environments told us that they had to learn new things when they started to work remotely. The benefits are significant for us, too, because the practical experience gained by our experts strengthens their skills in these matters. In this context, I wouldn’t speak about a digital leap but rather about a digital triple jump. I consider that remote work should become a permanent part of Twinning projects also after the COVID-19 situation is over,” Project Manager Suihko says.
Focus firmly on the future
The parties engaged in the project are optimistic about the future but are, at the same time, aware of the challenges caused by the COVID-19 situation. The work that has been done to develop remote work has been extremely valuable, and it is a precondition that we can, in the first place, realistically aim to reach the set goals. At the same time, the project team remain optimistic that the project implementation could still continue physically in Moldova.
“Twinning is an instrument of cooperation. Cooperation can be promoted in many different ways and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, remote connections have proved to be indispensable. They will certainly be used also after the acute phase of the pandemic is over. However, remote connections do not fulfil all requirements: Twinning is interaction between people, which is not measured by the length of a remote meeting. Twinning is also discussions, exchange of ideas, and learning to know each other outside meetings and training sessions. It is hard to do these things through remote connections,” Holm concludes.
Eerikki Vainio, Specialist, the Twinning Team of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs