Kustec rejects criticism over distance learning, dialogue

Ljubljana – Education Minister Simona Kustec, who faces an ouster motion, rejected criticism voiced against her by the opposition. She said the Education Ministry had introduced distance learning immediately after school closure in the first wave of the epidemic and had been in dialogue with trade unions and head teachers.

The opposition Left, Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD) and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) said in presenting the motion to oust Kustec at the beginning of the month that she had been introducing unprofessional and harmful policies while organising schooling during the lockdown, which had led to the longest school closure in Europe.

The minister stressed in her reply, which was endorsed by the government on Wednesday, that the ministry’s primary concern had been to provide equal opportunities for distance education and learning without disturbances to all children, including those from disadvantaged social environments.

She said the ministry had actively cooperated with all stakeholders in this process.

After the initial problems with the distance learning platform collapsing under pressure, the education process continued without interruptions at all primary and secondary schools and educational institutes for children and youth with special needs, she said.

The guidelines for organising education in the 2020/2021 school year and possible scenarios were prepared already in July, she noted.

Responding to criticism that she had denied education to special-needs children, she said that not implementing a ban on gatherings at schools and having students with special needs return to schools would have posed a threat and caused direct damage to public health.

Because the epidemiological situation was so serious, schools decided in December 2020 that they would have serious problems if they were to organise a safe return of children to schools, she said, adding that special-needs students had had additional assistance available all the time remotely.

Kustec stressed that the decisions on schools closure and reopening had been made in cooperation with epidemiologists. The ministry has also prepared a manual on education during the epidemic together with the National institute of Public Health (NIJZ).

The minister also rejected criticism that certain groups of primary and secondary school students were discriminated against during school closure, saying the National Education Institute had recommended to primary school head teachers at the end of March to make sure all students take part in distance learning, especially those from vulnerable groups and those with learning difficulties.

She also disagrees with claims of insufficient dialogue with trade unions and associations of head teachers. The ministry has been looking for possible solutions in cooperation with health and education experts back in the spring, she said, noting that 87 epidemic-related meetings with different stakeholders had been held since mid-March, including with representatives of associations of head teachers and the SVIZ trade union of teachers.