It is no understatement to say that the year of 2020 has turned our lives upside-down. The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented and long-lasting impact in all areas of the globalized world, including in the fields of education and research. During the Listiac webinar organized by the Portuguese Directorate-General for Education or Direção-Geral da Educação (DGE) in November 2020, partners had the opportunity to share their experience and ideas in connection to the development of Listiac within the context of the global health pandemic.
Lessons learned during the pandemic
Being actively involved in education, either as researchers, policy makers or educators, we have noticed that the inequalities between students and pupils are now more pronounced than ever. The pandemic has exacerbated the already existing achievement gap between pupils, leaving many disadvantaged pupils behind. Migrant pupils for example, already struggling with the language demands in class, are deprived of the opportunities for meaningful interaction and support in order to improve their proficiency in the school language, and hopefully also to build on their home language proficiency. On top of that, many migrant pupils come from socially and economically disadvantaged families, lacking the required resources and materials to attend online classes which have become a frequent alternative means of instruction in so many countries in Europe. Teachers have also felt the ramifications of the pandemic, as they had to find creative and effective solutions to cope with curriculum demands.
Nevertheless, the community has shown support for their struggle, as was demonstrated in many participating countries. In Finland, many university students were volunteering at schools to provide teachers and pupils with additional school materials, whereas in the Basque Country students volunteered to interact via telephone with children (from non-Basque-speaking families) to help them improve their communication skills in Basque.
How the Listiac project has been affected
Listiac is a very ambitious and multi-layered project, involving 11 partners from 7 different countries, with each partner following their own timeline, which means that the influence of Covid-19 has not been the same everywhere.
Some partners had to delay fieldwork or adapt it by using digital tools. Many partners struggled with collecting observational data due to the closure of schools. The most significant consequence that affected all partners, however, is the reduced international mobility. If, a year ago, we were discussing our ideas face-to-face under the Christmas lights in the streets of Ljubljana, this year’s Lisbon webinar was carried out in the digital world. Nevertheless, there have been positive aspects too; more project members were able to attend the meeting than if we met in person. As a result, more suggestions, comments, thoughts could be shared and discussed, which led to an equally successful and fruitful meeting.
Another important issue that partners pointed out is how the Listiac project should develop in light of the epidemic and the changes it has provoked. As already mentioned earlier, the education process might never be the same, the communication is becoming more and more digitalized and that affects the languages present in class as well. Does that concern our project’s goals and if so, should we reconsider them?
Project dissemination within the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic along with the policies on social distancing has severely restricted our means of project dissemination. Most of the conferences have been moved to digital platforms, highlighting the increased importance of digital literacy. Our online presence has also become more prominent; not only does Listiac have its official website in English and a few other languages, it also has a Facebook, Instagram and Youtube account, where various content is shared. Partners therefore suggest to further explore the potential of social media and increase the number of visitors by disseminating the project among online communities of practitioners (in-service teachers, educators, and student teachers). The findings of research articles could be summarized in popularized texts and published online. Similarly, the examples of good practice presented in the project should be made widely available to the public, as is the case with the blog relay race, which was published on the Listiac website in the fall.
The pandemic has brought quite a revolutionary shift in education as teaching is becoming increasingly virtual. The project’s aim to promote linguistically sensitive teaching in the classrooms should therefore be approached from the virtual perspective as well. It is necessary to look more closely at the interest and needs of the current or future teachers for whom online classrooms might become the new normal.