Education unions in Nordic countries join forces with public authorities to fight COVID-19 pandemic
Educators in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden are using well-developed social dialogue channels and information technology to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Denmark: Online assistance for union members
In Denmark, the Danish National Federation of Early Childhood and Youth Educators, the Danish Union of Teachers, the Dansk Magisterforening and the Gymnasieskolernes Laererforening– affiliates of Education International – have set up informative and easily accessible webpages focusing on educators’ rights and practical information. The online resources give advice related to health and on how to interact with children. They also outline ways for members to continue their teaching during the school closure. Links to the websites of local education authorities and UNICEF are provided and members are encouraged to follow all official advice on the COVID-19 crisis.
Finland: Dialogue about distance learning, day-care, and duties
In Finland, the government announced a state of emergency on 16 March. Nationwide school closures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 started on 18 March and are set to continue until 13 May. Day-care centres have stayed open but parents are asked to keep their children at home if possible. In addition, parents in jobs critical to the functioning of society who have young children can send their children to specially arranged care. Adjustments to the quarantine of students with particular special needs are also available.
In the meantime, most education is now being delivered via distance teaching/learning. Significantly, educators retain their salaries and rights when they transfer to distance-based teaching.
Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö(OAJ) is fully supportive of the Government’s decisions in this regard and, indeed, partook in discussions with the government in the run-up to the decision to close schools. Close dialogue with the government is ongoing, with two key issues to the forefront:
- Distance teaching requires particular competency, knowledge, equipment, programmes, and education of teachers themselves. Whilst many teachers were familiar with distance-based learning, it has been a new experience for others. The OAJ says employers must ensure that every teacher possesses the adequate skills and equipment to teach under these circumstances.
- In the collective agreements, employers have a right to define where a teacher should undertake their work. Some local authorities have told teachers to deliver their distance teaching from the school premises. This is not advisable in the current situation, and the OAJ has tried to convince employers to allow teachers to work from home. Whilst this happens in most instances, and employers trust their teachers, it is not universal.
In addition, most of the OAJ’s own staff are now working remotely.
Norway: Cooperation and communication
Education International’s three member organisations in Norway – the Norwegian Association of Researchers, Skolenes Landsforbund and Utdanningsforbundet– are cooperating with their government and were consulted prior to the adoption of crisis packages by the Parliament. The education workforce is well protected and (for now) has financial security. All schools, kindergartens and universities are closed, as part of emergency measures that will last until 13 April.
Unions and their members believe in the need to stand together, build trust and show social responsibility. Communication is also vital and the unions are cooperating with the education ministry and employers to provide professional advice to educators.
Students and teachers also all have access to whatever equipment they require and are using educational and school-based platforms.
Sweden: Mix of open schools and distance learning
In Sweden, education unions have focused their efforts on emphasizing the role and safety of their members, since schools remain open to a large extent. While local authorities have a mandate to call for school closures, unions have criticised this and called for national guidelines on whether schools should be closed or not.
In upper secondary and higher education, distance teaching/learning is being implemented and educational institutions are closed.
Education International’s affiliates – Lärarförbundet, Lärarnas Riksförbund and the Swedish Association for University Teachers and Researchers – also provide up-to-date information on developments with links to the website of the education directorate ( Skolverket).