No matter whether you are a “traditionalist” who cannot imagine education and guidance without personal contact or one of those who see a bright future in distance education, you are now probably quite happy to have all of the technology available that can be brought to bear. Yes, it does have weaknesses, but also many advantages. During these difficult times, it has proven to be a powerful tool, a bridge between educators, counsellors, learners and clients. For the few but highly engaged employees of the UPI Žalec AEC, the transition to the new method of work was initially quite uncertain just as in the other working collectives around Slovenia. We knew that we had to roll up our sleeves, move from the classrooms to the digital environment and drive our mission forward – provision of quality education and guidance – onwards down a different route.
As part of the Strengthening Basic and Vocational Competences in the Savinjska Region 2018–2022 project, the transition to e-education was something that happened as a sort of natural process. All three educational programmes that we provide proceeded remotely after 16 March. This, of course, happened after some deliberation, conversations with teachers about the method of implementation and after checking with the learners whether they had suitable equipment available and the minimum knowledge required for e-education. We tackled distance education with the same zeal, but a little more hesitantly and systematically in secondary school programmes and programmes of the elementary school for adults. We set up online classrooms in Moodle where learners receive online materials and various study activities. In the desire to offer learners the highest possible quality of e-education, and support and assistance to the teachers, we conducted weekly webinars and introduced individual consultations – both for the teachers. At the ISIO Guidance Centre and as part of the Guidance for employees 2016–2022 project, we communicated with the clients mostly via e-mail and using various chat programs, while we used the good old mobile phone when contacting older people and those with poor digital literacy skills.
Their responses were unbelievably positive. They were truly happy about our calls, e-mails, probably mostly our attention and care. The Generation Planet Multigenerational Centre at UPI addresses different generations, mainly the elderly, those with fewer opportunities and vulnerable target groups. We could therefore draw a quick conclusion that distance education is just not suitably for such an activity and for these target groups. After some in-depth consideration, we found quite a few solutions. On the Generation Planet FB profile, we have been publishing daily ideas for cooking, baking, calligraphy, creativity, research, reading and the like since 16 March. We thus cater to all groups, even the most vulnerable and loneliest ones. The latter can benefit from remote individual conversations at the Sensus Institute. We namely believe that even a conversation can help mitigate the psychophysical consequences of the changed routine, isolation and uncertainty. We are also providing a cooking course on the Remote Cuisine FB page with Andrej Slonjšek, and we also opened a closed Remote Seamstress FB group whereby the head of the sowing workshop regularly appears live every Wednesday morning and creates new sowing products and creations together with the learners.
UPI associates and teachers are coming out of this challenging period with newly acquired knowledge, stronger digital competences and actual experience with distance education and guidance. We have made important small steps and we believe that they will be followed by great strides. We are looking into the new educational season with optimism because distance education for adult learners is opening up numerous new possibilities and opportunities. Our mission is to make them possible.
Biserka Neuholt Hlastec (firstname.lastname@example.org), UPI – Žalec AEC