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Not only health, but a learning crisis: time for solidarity and cooperation, French VET college says

SEPR in Lyon, France, is an old, private vocational college that has been founded in 1864. SEPR has around 3,500 vocational students, most of them engaged in apprenticeship training in various fields of study.

To hear how SEPR has coped with the drastic global events this spring, we contacted two key persons of the SEPR international team: Claire Challande who leads the international department, and Béata Petit who is an English teacher, coordinator of the foreign languages team, and incoming mobility coordinator.

 Vue aerienne 2

 Aerial view of the SEPR main campus in Lyon, France. Photo: SEPR.


Claire Challande explains that SEPR was completely closed from 17 March until 11 May, with all possible courses organised online.

When the Covid-19 crisis hit Europe, SEPR had ten students abroad: in Spain, Italy, Canada and Finland. Bringing them home was not easy, as most of them wanted to continue their mobility experience abroad, not come back to France!

“We did a huge work to convince them that it was really risky to stay abroad because of the possibility of the borders’ closure. But at the end all of them, except one, took the right decision to come back. The only student who stayed abroad is actually still in Finland; he was doing a 6-month Erasmus+ internship abroad and has been hired by Finnish company located in Rajamäki,” Claire says.

Although Claire is not in the pedagogical team, she has been impressed how well the SEPR teaching staff has coped with the situation. “What I observed from my window is that our teaching staff actively rolled up their sleeves and worked together to learn how to use digital tools they were mainly not used to, they shared good practices, they did peer-to-peer learning…”

From the second lockdown week onwards, the pedagogical coordinators at SEPR began to organise Les Espaces Demo (“The Demo Space”), one-hour virtual presentations every day for SEPR teachers and other staff. The topics ranged from different online platforms (Padlet, Genially etc) or making video montage to providing teaching or psychological support.


 SEPR international team October 2018

SEPR international team + visiting international coordinator from Luksia in October 2018. From left to right: Béata Petit, Delphine Gicquel, Riikka Suhonen from Luksia and Claire Challande. Photo: SEPR.


Béata Petit tells that the teachers had not other solution but to put in place very quickly different remote learning strategies. “To tell you the truth, it was a great moment of solidarity,” she says.

“Every teacher contacted their classes by e-mail explaining the situation, sending the first lessons and highlighting that from that moment on, they will find the next “homework” to do on the SEPR’s pedagogical website. The next step was organizing virtual classes through Zoom,” Béata describes.

Béata notes how teachers have been in constant contact with the learners. If learners did not respond to teachers’ e-mails, did not do their homework or were absent from virtual classes, special needs educators phoned the learner, one by one. Learners listed many problems that had prevented them from participating: lack of internet connection or computer, too much work in their apprenticeship placements, or just low motivation for distance-learning.

“All teachers were and still are, focused on the well-being of our learners, and afraid of losing them as the lockdown lingered on,” Béata says.

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Main campus building of SEPR in Lyon. Photo: SEPR.

International cooperation between SEPR and Luksia

Luksia and SEPR have been collaborating for the past 8 years, with student and staff mobilities particularly in the field of arts and crafts. February 2019 was the last time when Luksia welcomed a group of cabinet-maker students from SEPR. During a 2-day workshop, Finnish-French student pairs had to create artistic 3D sculptures out of airplane plywood. Amazingly creative wooden pieces were made in just two days! The organisation was thanks to Luksia’s cabinetmaking teacher Vesa Kupila and SEPR colleague teacher Alexis Dereims.


SEPR in Luksia

Common languages for the Finnish-French student pairs in the cabinet-makers’ workshop in Luksia included hand gestures and Google Translate. Photo: Vesa Kupila.


SEPR in Luksia 2 Cabinet-maker students from Luksia and SEPR with their wooden 3D sculpture, February 2019. Photo: Vesa Kupila.

The future of international activities in vocational education is uncertain when it comes to mobilities, sending learners and staff abroad again. However, Claire calls for an even increased international cooperation: “We all face a huge health but also learning crisis. We need to implement new ways of teaching, learning, collaborating with our international partners. We will succeed by codesigning all together this new model. I am confident!” 

There is a need to collectively find new ways of working and teaching, also internationally. The experiences of the Covid-19 spring, with new digital methodologies and tools may also help to execute virtual mobilities in the future.

“This situation has accelerated new dimensions that will increase: digitalisation, hybrid mobility (mix physical and virtual mobility), internationalisation at home to involve also those learners who are not capable to travel. Our future needs to be more digital, greener, more sustainable,” Claire estimates.

In the spring of 2020, SEPR coordinated the application of an Erasmus+ strategic partnership project “ETOILE” focusing on internationalisation at home. Luksia is one of the partners in the project, and we are currently waiting for a hopefully positive decision for the project from the French Erasmus+ National Agency.

Luksia and SEPR look very much forward to our collaboration together, be it virtual, face-to-face, or in a blended form in the future.



Luksia's cabinetmaker students had prepared well for the 2-day workshop with French students, welcoming them to our school with some keywords. Photo: Riikka Suhonen.


Read the other blog posts in this series:

“Finnish people are extrovert, and Finland is not boring at all”: being an Erasmus+ student in Helsinki during the Covid-19 pandemic

The spring when everything changed: Experiences from a Dutch vocational college

“Now we have time to evaluate what we are doing”: Norwegian partner school experiences from Covid-19 spring

International work between Luksia and Bromangymnasiet: Unchartered waters ahead - sustainability is crucial

“We will come out reinforced”: Interview with Luksia’s partner school in the Basque Country