Education system should not go back to “normal” after the pandemic

Centre for Research of Ethnicity and Culture has been long pointing out the fact that the Slovak education system is still not ready to educate different groups of children, including minorities. Segregation of Roma children in education, inadequate access of children of foreigners to education, considerable barriers faced by children with health impairment are all well-known issues. However,  they have not garnered enough political or expert support so far to be tackled.

Rigidity and inflexibility have been long-term issues of the education system

However, the current crisis caused by the pandemic has disclosed an even deeper problem – a substantial rigidity of the system and a lack of flexibility of schools and other educational institutions at the time when children were not able to learn at schools. And, it has also shown another key aspect – if there are schools succeeding in meeting children’s needs, responding to them and adapting to the continually changing conditions, it is due to the engagement of individual teachers or school teams. During the first surge of the pandemic, various self-help groups were created on social networks, as well as various websites where teachers could exchange their experience.

A lot of them promptly adapted to the new situation and were able to teach children online without their grades and school results being affected and without placing the burden of teaching children on their parents. Due to the help from different non-governmental organisations and informal groups, it became clear how vital civic society was and it also showed the quality of some teachers in our country. Nevertheless, these were manifestations of a kind of a positive deviation rather than the nature of the education system.

Overall, the education system has proved to be completely unprepared for a crisis. In spring, the Educational Policy Institute pointed out that more than 30,000 children were likely to have no internet access and more than 110,000 children were dependent on free lunches at schools. Almost every other pupil lived in an overcrowded household and did not have adequate conditions for learning. Furthermore, there was no information available on how almost 41,000 children with health impairment were being taught.1

More than 50 thousand children did not have any education during the first surge of the pandemic

The real extent of this issue got fully exposed by a questionnaire survey carried out by the Educational Policy Institute. The fact that the Ministry of Education was reluctant to make the findings of the survey public and was postponing it as long as it was possible shows how poor self-reflection and perception of its own shortcomings by the Slovak education system is. The Educational Policy Institute reports directly to the Ministry of Education, so it should welcome a quality and data-based feedback and immediately look for possibilities to remedy the situation. However, the response of the Ministry, in which it delegitimized the Educational Policy Institute employees by labelling them  „the former minister’s people“,2 only highlighted the most serious problem of the education system – its inability to acknowledge its failure.

The report, which was finally made public on 17th September, points out serious failures of the education system at the time of distance learning  during the first surge of the pandemic. These findings are even more serious than the findings of the Educational Policy Institute report from spring this year. According to the survey, more than 52,000 children did not get any education in spring. Almost 130,000 children (as much as 18% of pupils) did not use the internet to learn. This means they were most likely only learning from printed materials sent to them and there was a lack of regular communication with the teachers. Even in case of children learning online, the most common form of education was to send them school tasks by e-mail, which consequently placed inadequate burden on the children’s parents who had to teach them. Only one fifth of children was actually learning online– the classes were conducted in a usual way and the teacher was taking the children through the learning process.3

Roma children’s situation during the pandemic was probably the most difficult

The report issued by the Educational Policy Institute also shows that is was mostly children from socially disadvantaged groups who faced the most difficult situation with regards to education. Mostly, even if not exclusively, it was Roma children who, even without the pandemic, face serious obstacles regarding their access to quality education.

EduRoma, a non-governmental organisation, was monitoring the situation of Roma children in poor locations during the time of distance learning. Their findings confirm the findings of the Educational Policy Institute to a large extent. According to their report, the fact that many Roma children live in overcrowded households without adequate access to the internet was one of the biggest problems. At the same time, their parents do not have the knowledge and possibilities to help them with learning. This means Roma children lacked the necessary pedagogical support. Many of the children also have special educational needs that presented an even bigger barrier for them than in the usual education process.4

Roma pupils learning offline during the pandemic were mostly children from very poor communities. These children do not have basic material and technical conditions for learning; they do not get proper food and are often hungry. Therefore, their education cannot be the same as when they actually go to school. Their parents are often unemployed and are undereducated, so they have neither a chance nor the ability to help their children with learning. In addition, the children frequently do not speak the language of education properly and therefore, did not understand the tasks sent to them by their teachers.5

Teachers had a very poor support

It would be probably easy to say that teachers simply did not manage and were not flexible enough during the time of distance learning. The crisis came suddenly and almost nobody was prepared for it. However, the persisting problem of methodical and pedagogical support of teachers from the state became very obvious when the crisis hit.

The methodical support teachers received during the time of distance learning was, according to EduRoma monitoring, very poor. There was some support available at, a website set up by the Ministry of Education and the National Institute for Education. They used the platform to provide as much methodical support for distance learning as possible. Teachers considered webinars organized by the Research Institute of Child Psychology and Psychopathology very useful. Representatives of the state were no doubt trying to provide the best possible, as well as fast and effective support they were able to at the time. Nevertheless, the findings of the questionnaire survey conducted by the Educational Policy Institute show that it was insufficient, and many children were practically left without education for several months.

What if schools close again?

The new coronavirus crisis has not ended yet and it is quite likely distance learning will need to be implemented again. As many as 80% of teachers would need systematic institutional support for better quality teaching. According to the Educational Policy Institute, such support should be mostly technical (internet connection, adequate internet data services and teaching materials for distance learning). However, teachers of socially disadvantaged children would also need much more support for teaching these children and a possibility to continue physical classes as long as possible. So far, we have been successful in effectively keeping schools open and placing only schools or classes with COVID-19 positive cases under quarantine. Yet, it is questionable how long this trend can last.

By September 2020, no measures were in place to secure the internet connection for pupils who did not have it during the first surge of the pandemic. There were also no measures to make sure socially disadvantaged children could go to school for as long as possible.6

The Ministry of Education, together with several organisations directly reporting to the Ministry, has prepared various materials for distance learning, work sheets for pupils from segregated Roma communities and other tools supporting distance learning. This is an area where the state authorities have managed to do a lot. The situation in the following weeks and months will show whether the materials will provide enough expert and methodical support for schools.

Lessons from the crisis development

It is likely that the pandemic will be over in a few months or the following year and the world will go back to normal. However, it is very important that the education system does not go back to „its normal“ and that the situation before the pandemic does not come back. The crisis has disclosed many shortcomings and barriers of our education system. There are lessons to learn from the crisis and there are measures to be proposed in order to help different groups of children even during a usual school operation

The National Institute for Education, as well as the Ministry have started taking many essential positive steps, for instance in the field of inclusive education or other forms of support for different groups of pupils. The National Institute for Education has started implementing several national projects with a view to improving teachers’ capacity and access of pupils to quality education.

It is crucial that these changes are systematic, promoted at all levels of education and adequately funded.


  1. Bednárik, M. at al. (2020), ´ Ako v čase krízy zabezpečiť vzdelávanie pre všetky deti ‘ (How to ensure education for all children at the time of a crisis  ), commentary 1/2020, April 2020, Educational Policy Institute, available at:
  2. Denník N, 21st September 2020, available at:
  3. Ostertagová, A., Čokyna, J. (2020), Hlavné zistenia z dotazníkového prieskumu v základných a stredných školách počas dištančného vzdelávania (Main findings of questionnaire survey in grammar and secondary schools during distance learning), Bratislava, Educational Policy Institute, available at:
  4. Rafael, V., Krejčíková, K. (2020), Ako zostať blízko na diaľku. Prvé výsledky monitorovania dištančného vzdelávania žiakov z marginalizovaných rómskych komunít počas pandémie COVID 19 (How to stay close at a distance. First findings from monitoring of distance learning of pupils from marginalised Roma communities during COVID-19 pandemic), Bratislava, EduRoma, available at:
  5. Rafael, V., Krejčíková, K. (2020), Aký je rozdiel medzi „online“ a „offline“ žiakmi z rómskych komunít a čoho sa najviac obávajú po návrate do školy (What is the difference between „online“ and „offline“ pupils from Roma communities and what they are most concerned about after going back to school0, Bratislava, EduRoma, available at:
  6. Ostertagová, A., Čokyna, J. (2020), Hlavné zistenia z dotazníkového prieskumu v základných a stredných školách počas dištančného vzdelávania (Main findings of questionnaire survey in grammar and secondary schools during distance learning), Bratislava, Educational Policy Institute, available at: