In 2020 there were about 180 active Erasmus+ KA229/KA219 projects with Austrian participation. Within these projects, most schools planned mobilities with their students, to visit schools in other countries or EU institutions. Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, many of these mobilities could not take place, so that hundreds of pupils were deprived of this experience.
However, international cooperation and exchanges between pupils could continue with eTwinning, and many schools took advantage of this. In fact, in Austria there was an obvious increase in projects registering in eTwinning with the remark that they have received Erasmus+ KA219/KA229 funding.
“Since we’ve had to move most activities to eTwinning and organise meetings online, more pupils were able to participate than could have gone on exchange through the Erasmus+ project,” is how Michael Huber-Kirchberger of the Linz International Business Schools highlights one positive aspect of the situation. Michael and his colleague Elisabeth Hasiweder have several Erasmus+ and eTwinning-projects running at their VET secondary school, which is also one of the Austrian eTwinning-schools. In their project “STEPS4SCHOOLS - Sustainable Tourism Educational Projects for Schools” they work with five other schools from Bulgaria, Slovenia, Italy, Portugal and the Czech Republic. All are very motivated for the topic and were disappointed when the school exchanges had to be cancelled starting last March. However, they adapted and expanded their eTwinning activities. The schools recently held a “virtual school exchange”, with pupil interaction, international lessons, even a virtual tour of Vidin, their Bulgarian host-city.
For Renate Gerber, from the secondary school GRG Maroltingergasse in Vienna, also with an eTwinning-school label, eTwinning has always been an integral part of her Erasmus+ project with a school in La Réunion: “Triple E: E-learning - E-twinning - E-rasmus”. The pupils from La Réunion were very excited to visit their counterparts in Vienna in May 2020, some had even purchased dresses to attend the Viennese school ball – but unfortunately the pandemic got in the way. Renate says that their big advantage was the participation of only two schools in the project. This allowed them great flexibility, setting up new creative activities in the TwinSpace and holding virtual meetings with their pupils about once a month. They are pursuing their goals of bilingual exchange (French/German) and learning about various apps, trying them out in their TwinSpace and during their meetings, while also including reports and comparisons of COVID situations in their respective regions.
Bernd Fiechtl, the EU coordinator and teacher at the secondary school BG/BRG Judenburg, had not initially planned to incorporate eTwinning in his school’s Erasmus+ projects. At Bernd’s school, the younger pupils (3rd and 4th grade) are introduced to international work through eTwinning, while the older ones (5th and 6th grade) participate in Erasmus+ projects and mobilities. However, as their two-year Erasmus+ project had to be prolonged and the younger pupils are advancing, they will continue creating workshops and integrating exchange through eTwinning. The online eTwinning projects are also finding their way into the school’s bilingual programme, integrated into foreign language and geography classes, further strengthening the school’s international focus.
For all our interview partners, their Erasmus+ projects have been prolonged by a year and there is still hope that at least some mobilities will be possible. In any case, despite all the complexities of closed schools and distance learning, all of them are insistent (as indeed are many eTwinners) that international projects are worth the effort. As Michael from Linz summarises: through eTwinning and Erasmus+ projects, the students are more motivated, more independent and with highly improved presentation and speaking skills. Flexibility, support from school leadership and colleagues, creative use of eTwinning and other online possibilities, as well as good cooperation with their partner schools have proved crucial to continuing international activities even in the year without travel.
© OeAD/Gianmaria Gava & Pablo Chiereghin