Impacts of exceptional teaching arrangements related to the COVID-19 epidemic
The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) carried out an evaluation of the impacts of exceptional teaching arrangements related to the COVID-19 epidemic. The evaluation produced national-level information on the impacts of the exceptional conditions. In addition, it produced information on operating models and good practices that ECEC, education and training providers as well as higher education institutions can use to promote equality during and after the exceptional conditions.
The purpose of the evaluation was to produce information on the impacts of the exceptional conditions on the realisation of equality in education and on the functioning of the education system. The evaluation focused on the impacts on learning, assessment, support, guidance and the wellbeing of children and young people. It produced information on both positive and negative impacts on equal preconditions for learning. The evaluation covered early childhood education and care, basic education, general upper secondary education, vocational education and training as well as higher education and liberal adult education. It examined real-time activities as well as immediate and long-term impacts, which are also monitored as part of national evaluation activities.
The principles guiding the evaluation were the national goals of equality in education and equal learning opportunities. Regardless of their family background and place of residence, each child and young person must have equal opportunities to access high-quality education. Many different groups of actors in the education system have tasks and responsibilities related to delivering equal education and achieving the goals: national policy-makers, education and training providers and higher education institutions as well as teaching and guidance staff, pupils and students. The impacts of the restrictions laid down pursuant to the Emergency Powers Act in the exceptional period on the actors’ responsibilities and obligations were taken into account in the evaluation.
The evaluation was carried out in phases, ensuring that its findings could already be used as a basis for decision-making during the exceptional situation (first phase, reporting on 30 April 2020) and when preparing development and support measures after it. In the first phase, a synthesis and situational picture that supported the national evaluation were drawn up, underpinned by the existing knowledge base and studies concerning the exceptional situation. In the second phase, an overall evaluation of the impacts of the exceptional teaching arrangements was carried out, and the necessary national evaluation data on different levels of education was collected.
The evaluation answered the following questions:
- What impacts have the teaching arrangements resulting from the exceptional situation had on the realisation of educational and social equality and non-discrimination?
- How have the exceptional teaching arrangements affected learning?
- What impacts has the situation had on learners’ and students’ needs for guidance and support and on the availability of these services?
- How have the needs of special groups been addressed?
- How has assessment of learning and competence been carried out in the exceptional conditions?
- Which factors related to the exceptional teaching arrangements have promoted or prevented the achievement of the objectives set for early childhood education and care, basic education, general upper secondary school, vocational education and training and higher education?
- What changes has the exceptional situation brought about in the progress of studies and the need for support and guidance in the transition phases of different levels of education?
- What impacts have the arrangements necessitated by the exceptional situation had on the well-being of children, pupils, students and teachers? How has their well-being been supported?
As far as possible, the evaluation drew on the results and data sets of earlier research and study projects, consequently striving to avoid creating an additional burden for early childhood education and care, schools, educational institutions and higher education institutions as well as overlapping data collection. When using existing studies and interpreting their results, the limitations related to their use and the fact that the objectives and primary uses of these studies differ from those of the national evaluation were taken into account.
PART I: Background report for the national evaluation, synthesis and situational picture based on existing data sets
The first phase of the evaluation project was carried out between 1 April and 30 April 2020, and in addition to the knowledge base of national evaluation activities, it tapped the findings and data sets of research and study projects completed by other organisations. The aim of this was to avoid placing an additional burden on early childhood education and care, schools, educational institutions and higher education institutions during the exceptional situation and overlaps in data collection.
As the outcome of the first phase, a report containing a summary of the realisation of equality was compiled based on the findings of evaluations conducted between 2015 and 2020. The summary of the national evaluation findings brings up concerns over factors that may jeopardise the realisation of equal preconditions for learning and should now be given particular attention. On the other hand, the summary highlights the Finnish education system’s strengths that support coping with exceptional situations and reduce their negative impacts. In addition, the report contains a compilation of studies on the exceptional situation produced by other actors (10 studies). As a synthesis of their findings, the report presents a situational picture of how equality has been realised and discusses areas in which more evaluation and research information will be needed.
PART II: National evaluation of the impacts of the exceptional situation on the realisation of equality
The objective of the second part of the evaluation project was to produce national evaluation data to assess the direction and scale of the impacts ensuing from the exceptional situation. Evaluation and research data production should be future-oriented, making it possible to use the data to support education and training providers and higher education institutions in making the changes necessitated by the situation, some of which may be permanent.
The purpose of FINEEC’s data collection was to produce a multi-perspective data set while answering the evaluation questions and to collect and assess good practices and operating models identified while the exceptional teaching and distance learning arrangements were in place in early childhood education and care and at different levels of education. By means of good practices and operating models ECEC, education and training providers and higher education institutions can promote the key strengths of the Finnish education system and opportunities for equal learning.
PART III: Summary and findings of the national evaluation
The final report of the evaluation contains recommendations for levelling out the impacts of the exceptional situation and for promoting equality among learners.