Spain was one of the hardest hit countries by the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe in the spring of 2020. We interviewed the international coordinator Arantxa Arrieta at IES Xabier Zubiri-Manteo BHI, a partner college of Luksia in San Sebastian. Arantxa described her experiences and thoughts on how this spring may change the way we think about international collaboration in vocational education, and our life at large.
Zubiri-Manteo is a state school of secondary education and vocational training, focused especially on challenge-based learning and internationalization. Vocational training is offered in the fields of administration and finances, commerce and marketing, tourism, and information and communication technologies, both on initial and higher vocational level. The school has 1300 students, out of which 800 are vocational students, and 165 teaching staff, 90 of them vocational teachers.
Zubiri-Manteo is actively involved in innovative and international projects, especially through TKNIKA, Basque VET Research Centre, and IKASLAN (Association of Public Vocational Training Schools).
Zubiri-Manteo school - it is actually located by the sea, next to an amazing beach which cannot be seen in this photo!
Luksia and Zubiri-Manteo have collaborated at least for the past 8 years, exchanging students and staff almost every year with Erasmus+ support. This spring, as usual, Luksia hosted three students from Zubiri-Manteo. The students from the fields of tourism and IT arrived at the end of February. Also one tourism student from Luksia had everything set to go for her Erasmus+ mobility to San Sebastian in May, which was then cancelled due to Covid-19.
In total, Zubiri-Manteo had 27 students for Erasmus+ mobilities abroad this spring: 3 in Finland/Luksia, 11 in Poland, 5 in the Czech Republic and 8 in Italy. When the Covid-19 pandemic spread, the majority returned back to Spain. However, two students were able to complete their full mobility, one of them being Ainara in Helsinki who shares her experiences in another interview.
How did Covid-19 affect your school, students and teachers this spring?
“The truth is that this spring has been unexpected and difficult for everyone,” Arantxa says. All schools closed when the Spanish government declared the state of emergency on the 12th of March. Yet, learning continued through tutored self-studying online. Although e-learning was not very widespread in Zubiri-Manteo, they adapted quickly to the virtual way of learning, using a range of e-learning platforms including Google Classroom, Moodle, Zoom, Skype, Discord and e-mail.
But not only did teachers and students at Zubiri-Manteo have to quickly change their class learning online: many companies stopped working as well, and spring is the time for graduating students to complete their obligatory internship period. “Luckily some companies offered virtual training and development opportunities,” Arantxa notes.
One of the students who returned back to Spain from Finland actually continued her Erasmus+ mobility virtually with the Finnish company. Interview of Nerea Labandera, the IT student and her company mentor Per Lindberg from Evifin is available in Finnish.
How will international activities in VET change in the future?
Arantxa estimates that the Covid-19 has redefined how we work, with more and more companies working now remotely. She believes that more VET students will be able to do virtual mobilities in the future. “With a wide range of offers from companies across Europe, this can be the opportunity to experience international work environment,” she says.
Arantxa wants to highlight many of the good things that this spring has forced us to do: spending time with family, getting used to distance-work and online learning, having a lot of time to think and do creative things, but most importantly, joining forces with other people. She believes that we will come out of the pandemic reinforced.
“Even though the Covid-19 has infected thousands of people and killed several hundred in our country, it is also bringing out the best in people. In these very difficult times, humanity, empathy and solidarity are values on the rise that are shown every day in initiatives that awaken our emotions: applause at sunset for the professionals who are in the front line of the coronavirus, willingness to do the shopping for the elders of our community, rainbows in our windows to convey that "everything will be fine" and that we will overcome this health crisis,” she lists many of the encouraging actions taken in Spain.
Last Sunday (21 June) the state of emergency was declared finished in Spain. Although some aspects of life are returning back to the old normal, we should also take stock of what we have learnt this spring.
“Life is going to change from now on. It is very important that from all these experiences we are having, we should get out the best,” Arantxa summarises.
Text: Riikka Suhonen, Coordinator of International Affairs, Luksia
Photos: Arantxa Arrieta
Read the other blog posts in this series: