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Europe needs the community service now. More than ever.

In Spring 2020, the traditional primary and secondary education system finds itself overchallenged. Students are physically absent from classes without structured school activity and have to adjust to a new learning reality; meanwhile, teachers are struggling to balance a completely overturned work environment in between hundreds of calls during day and night with students, colleagues, and nearly no time to transfer content or teach as they were taught to do.

What corona makes us realise about our education system

In Spring 2020, the traditional primary and secondary education system finds itself overchallenged. Students are physically absent from classes without structured school activity and have to adjust to a new learning reality; meanwhile, teachers are struggling to balance a completely overturned work environment in between hundreds of calls during day and night with students, colleagues, and nearly no time to transfer content or teach as they were taught to do.

And so students are left nearly alone in their learning process – challenged to independently comprehend and conquer the material their teachers send them. If you’re particularly lucky, one of your parents or siblings might be able to spare 20 minutes a day to study something, whatever little it might be, with you in person. But instead of being in a community of learners in school, both purpose and motivation in a world turned upside down slowly fade away.

Performance over health and equality

In the meantime, administrative and political decision-makers both still insist on proofs of performance, at the disposal of the students’ health. A society demanding its students to endanger their and their relatives’ lives in order to provide them with a barren sheet of paper certifying a successful graduation is as perverted as it can get: It spits on the respect for human lives and on the ideals of equality. Assuming that final exams in the times of this crisis could provide any form of objective assessment of students’ capabilities is laughable. Nowhere becomes the effect of the financial and structural background of individuals on their education and their education achievements as visible as when those students are forced to learn and study in their home environment all day. Whilst some might be able to study in their own rooms in peace and silence, with full support of their parents, and all technological tools imaginable at their disposal, others might be locked in the most stressful home situations without any assistance or means to focus (see e.g. the findings of the Robert Bosch Foundation [de]). These aren’t grounds on which states should be allowed to measure performance. But still, they do – because it’s always been done so.

Which again brings us to the question for the purpose of education.

Fostering sustainable individual development and responsible citizenship

Yes, of course you can have dozens of online videoconferences a week, give assignments to students via the internet and demand them being answered in such and such time. But in light of this new phase, in which students have to teach themselves already, it becomes apparent that there is much more that pupils can and should learn other than traditional school curricula contents. Life skills. Which is where the framework of a European Community Service can step in.

The main paradigm of the European Community Service is that young people, instead of only being put through a linear curriculum of contents preselected by officials and teachers, develop their own skillset in a new environment. At a point of time, in which students everywhere already have to teach themselves either way, the idea of acquiring practical skills vis-à-vis academic knowledge presents itself rather obviously.

It becomes globally visible that society, next to notoriously underpaid healthcare personnel and the evenly underpaid “essential workers” depends on volunteers in local neighbourhoods, on assistance in good faith and the sense of community binding those in need and those being able to help together. This sense of a cohesive society needs to be strengthened, and it can be – if we teach young people to get to know different contexts and perspectives. A community service can do that.

Then, within a European Community Service, young people can follow projects which they actually chose themselves. And it’s quite imaginable that a lot of such volunteer services could be fulfilled even during corona – which would give students something to enjoy and a project that they can focus on instead of being put through videoconference after videoconference by their teachers. Young people would have something they could be intrinsically motivated to do. And society could use this motivation.



N.B. This is not a call to abolish all schools. This is also not a call to enslave young people as healthcare workers in the interests of society. It’s just a call to political decision-makers in education to think beyond current systems and to give young people equal opportunities to learn and grow in their own way.

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