The COVID-19 pandemic reaching Europe in the spring of 2020 has created new challenges for the population of developed democracies at various levels. None of the Western societies have an age group which have not been affected directly or indirectly by the pandemic. Looking back on the happenings in the spring and summer of 2020, we consider that one of the defining characteristics of the events is certainly manifested in a general sense of stress and high level of certainty.
How much stress does the COVID-19 pandemic entail and who can be the winners of the current situation?
Stress and uncertainty have always been an integral part of the existence of humanity, what is more, during history the survivors of traumatising and demanding events have always been those who could quickly adjust to changing circumstances. The source of external stress and uncertainty affecting societies shows great diversity and variety (e.g. wars, threat, limited resources), and there are many among the older members of today’s population in Europe who have experienced outstanding historical occurrences or experienced and survived traumatising events. However, the population of today’s Europe does not include people who have direct experiential knowledge on the adequate management of a worldwide epidemic. In this respect, we can only rely on collective knowledge and historical experience, which definitely raises concerns.
We did not follow to what extent the pandemic dominated the media and mass communication channels in other countries during spring and summer, however, the messages communicated in the Hungarian media and the measurements implemented in spring (e.g. announcing the state of emergency, the television speeches of the Prime Minister, dedicated timeframes for shopping for the elderly, closure of borders, hospital visit ban, closure of kindergartens, schools and higher education institutions) clearly indicated for the citizens that times were difficult. We can establish without any exaggeration that in the spring period of 2020 the Hungarian mass communications and political discourse, deliberately or not, were strongly permeated by fear appeal.
At the same time, the degree of fear cannot be objectively assessed at an overall social level, as individuals are highly diverse; it is defined by habitus and stimulus threshold what a person considers as a source of stress. In the situation that has developed – today and in the near future – presumably the problem-solving strategies of the individuals who intend to be objective and assess risks rationally can be efficient. The “winners” will probably be those who can tolerate stress and uncertainty and who can maximise the “really important few” and let go of the “unimportant many” among their everyday tasks. If we think about it, it is actually about the efficient mobilisation of the skills of entrepreneurship competence. In this situation, those who already have an entrepreneurial approach and consciously make use of the application of this approach can have a step forward, i.e. as the Chinese saying goes, “Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems”.
How have higher education and teacher education changed and can change during and after the pandemic?
The discontinuation of the education based on personal presence took the institutions of Hungarian public education (primary and secondary schools) by surprise and most of them were unprepared. The schools responded to the switch to so-called digital education in quite a heterogonous manner. The teachers of certain institutions kept contact with the students in an asynchronous way, with the help of an intermediary platform for teaching materials, where the students were forced to solve the assigned exercises offline relying on themselves (and the support of their parents) and “upload” them within a deadline. The teachers of other institutions held real-time lessons in a virtual classroom in the framework of synchronous education, mostly through applying Zoom or Jit.si.
Similar solutions were used in the Hungarian higher education, including initial teacher education. Besides exploiting the possibilities provided by ICT, much depended on the attitude of the educators. The teachers considering humane aspects recognised it from the beginning that the students could not be expected to fulfil the requirements and tasks defined at the start of the university semester, while other teachers who were able to completely ignore the environmental effects argued that the students can actually be demanded more of because they did not have to concentrate on anything else but learning.
The above described examples are mostly extreme cases, in reality, actions are affected by a variety of external and internal factors (competences, personal values, beliefs), and the nature of the situation. Whichever approach educators and higher educational teachers apply in their work, we can claim that the pandemic considerably contributed to the enrichment and innovation of the methodological repertoire. It forced the teachers and educators less open to changes to make methodological modifications, while it enabled creative teachers and educators with an entrepreneurial approach to try new opportunities: the conscious application of this approach allowed solving unexpected situations more efficiently.
It can be concluded that COVID has posed new challenges for teachers and educators in teacher training. The challenges have emerged in an extremely complex way, which have entailed forming an unconventional way of life and applying new coping strategies. It can be generally established about the happenings of the past period that the individuals have tried to find a solution to the emerging situation alone or in professional communities. However, based on the interpretation of Bacigalupo et al. (2016), we know that an entrepreneurial approach means that the individual adapts to opportunities and transforms them to value for others as well, as it is easier to find good solutions to any kind problems collectively than individually. Presumably, the great challenge of the next period will be to prepare for that the virus will stay with us for an unpredictable period, thus professional communities, including the educators of teacher training, have to try to develop a new and safe framework for the (co)operation collectively.
Authored by: László Kinyó, Edit Tóth & Szabolcs Prónay, University of Szeged