International conference "Towards a more resilient, safer and smarter Danube region" of EUSDR Priority Area 9: how it was?

International conference "Towards a more resilient, safer and smarter Danube region" of EUSDR Priority Area 9: what was it like?

On 13-14 November, representatives of the EU and international institutions, EU strategies for the Danube and Baltic Sea Region, government agencies responsible for labour market, education and social policy, national education institutions, as well as civil society gathered for fruitful discussions, learning and experience exchange within the framework of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region.

4 panel discussions, more than 100 participants, productive conversations on current challenges in the areas of labour market, education and retraining, digital skills and competences, lifelong learning, and cooperation between VET and the labour market.

Panel discussion 1 “Promoting digital skills in the Danube region and beyond” was moderated by Mykhailo Omelchenko, project assistant at Ukrainian Institute for International Politics. This panel explored different perspectives on strategies for using and promoting digital skills and competences in the Danube Region and other EU macro-regional strategies. 

Dmytro Zavhorodnyi, Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine for Digital Development, Digital Transformations and Digitalization

Dmytro Zavhorodnyi put focus on immense challenges that Ukraine is facing in its educational system due to the war in Ukraine and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also mentioned that the digital strategy in Ukraine is divided into five components: equipment and connectivity, electronic content, digital skills, data management, and electronic services and processes. Efforts have been made to provide devices and connectivity to schools, with a focus on regions still primarily engaged in distance learning. The Ministry of Education continues to work tirelessly to provide services, devices, and digital content to alleviate the burden on students and teachers during these difficult times. 

Bela Kardon (Regional Centre for Information and Scientific Development) provided information on the project Inclusion4Schools, aiming at identifying and addressing social inequalities to create more inclusive communities within educational settings. Among the Inclusion4Schools achievements are six awareness-raising events, engagement with numerous schools, and the establishment of a knowledge-sharing platform.

Jussi Okkonen (Tampere University) presented his project “Digital Literacy Post Covid”, among the outcomes of which are reducing the strain on the daily work of teachers, reduced workload, and enabling teachers to better focus on teaching activities. Additionally, project managed to increase the opportunity for parents/guardians and teachers to influence the development of digital literacy skills and practice.

Claus Hoffmann (representing EUSDR Priority Area 8) shared information on the work of WG “Digital Danube”, comprising seven EU and three non-EU states, involving members from universities, companies, regional catalysts, political bodies, and NGO.s. Its expertise lies in fostering digital innovations, particularly in qualification programs for employees and developing digital business models. Over the years, the group has focused on various digital technologies such as cloud computing, social media, mobile, analytics, AI, IoT, and upcoming technologies like 5G, bioinformatics, and quantum computing.  

The second panel discussion, "Lifelong Learning in the Danube Region and Beyond", focused on modern and innovative approaches to promoting lifelong learning in the Danube Region and other EU macro-regional strategies.

Ulrike Damyanovic (European Training Foundation) stressed that in light of the recent European Commission's enlargement package, there's a clear emphasis on the importance of upskilling. In this regard, the ETF’s initiatives span from skills reviews to excellence centers, Erasmus Plus collaborations, job surveys, and more, all centered on the concept of lifelong learning. ETF would share insights on qualifications and micro-credentials, crucial aspects in this landscape.

Anatolii Garmash from ETF focused on micro credentials and their relevance in the context of lifelong learning and recognition of prior learning. The speaker emphasized the need to develop valuable micro credentials that hold weight in continuing education and training, enhancing learner and market relevance. To support partner countries in this endeavor, guidelines and recommendations were developed, focusing on designing, issuing, and recognizing micro credentials. 

Olena Gachuk (Odesa Center of Vocational and Technical Education) addressed the importance of VET education in the context of providing services for primary vocational training, adult qualification improvement, and retraining. She also introduced the Center for Vocational Technical Education as a multidisciplinary institution catering to various professions essential for the labor market. The institution has been proactive in developing strategies for post-war economic recovery, focusing on vocational training to meet the labor demands during the country's reconstruction phase.

Lina Blažytė, representing a Lithuanian think tank “Diversity Development Group”, discussed her involvement in a project focused on the social integration of migrants in Lithuania. She highlighted the influx of over 200,000 migrants into the country over the last two years, outlined the challenges faced by migrants in Lithuania, such as physical demands in unskilled jobs leading to health issues, language barriers, cultural differences, and lack of information on various aspects of employment. 

The third panel discussion was dedicated to enhancing cooperation between vocational education and training and labour market in the Danube region”. 

Galina Rusu, State Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Research of the Republic of Moldova told that connecting education to the demands and needs of the labor market from the perspective of sustainable development, by restructuring the human capital development mechanisms is a priority of the Ministry of Education and Research of Moldova. She presented Moldova’s development strategy “Education 2030” and its key pillars. 

Tiina Polo from European Commission shared that she has long working history with EUSDR with a special focus to lifelong learning and skills development for the needs of the labour market. She has worked with a working group conducting the comparison work of the European qualifications framework and Ukrainian qualifications framework.

Yuliia Hrytsku-Andriyesh, Deputy Head of Chernivtsi Regional Military Administration presented a vision of enhancing cooperation between VET and labour market in the Chernivtsi region. Also Yuliia presented sectors of the economy that are key to the recovery of Ukraine, such as construction and architecture (builders, designers, architects, engineers); other work specialties (welders, carpenters, bricklayers, painters, locksmiths, electricians); transport and logistics (drivers, transport operators, procurement managers); retail (sellers, cashiers, consultants, administrators); agriculture specialists.

The forth panel discussion was mderated by Nadija Afanasieva, director of Ukrainian Institute for International Politics, was dedicated to resilience, safety and rehabilitation in the Danube region

Ugo Guarnacci highlighted Ukraine's involvement as an associated country and its full access to EU for Health funds since January 2022. The program includes grants for NGOs, action grants, joint actions with Member States, and direct grants to international organizations. They emphasized the importance of mental health support for vulnerable groups, particularly refugees and displaced individuals from Ukraine, outlining specific indicators and projects aimed at their psychological well-being. Additionally, they explained joint actions, urging public entities in Ukraine to participate and highlighted co-funding rates and exceptions within the program. 

Oleksiy Shaforostov, Director of Educational and Methodical Center for VET in Ivano-Frankivsk region addressed the challenges faced by the education sector in their region following the full-scale war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. The discussion centered on the education development strategy for 2023-2027, aiming to stabilize and enhance education quality by focusing on teacher development, labor market balance, and institutional upgrades. Statistics revealed significant disruptions, such as the temporary displacement of school-age children and an increased number of internally displaced persons. Efforts to maintain educational continuity were emphasized, including regulations for internal academic mobility during martial law and creating safe learning environments in institutions. 

Anastasia Nekrasova, LDF Director, Harthill Consulting, Head of Supervisory Board of Folk High School "Vovchok" discussed a focus on popular education as a response to the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine, highlighting the transformative role of vocational education in shaping the Ukrainian populace amidst the war, considering it as a catalyst for change. She provided information on Ukrainian Bildung Network, and the first folk high school to foster popular education in Ukraine was created. Anastasia underscored the importance of post-war community development and emphasized the collaboration with various countries and macroregional strategies, including the Baltic and Adriatic-Ionian regions, to leverage popular education for fostering active citizenship and democratic development.

Anton Sytnykov, Instructor of EORE Tactical Medicine School discussed his role in teaching tactical medicine and mine safety to civil institutions like the Ukrainian national emergency service, firefighters, police, and more. He highlighted their substantial impact, estimating their training reach to be over 15,000 individuals, emphasizing that the actual number might be even higher. He portrayed their team efforts as a collective of activists driven by a desire to make a difference, stating their influence extends beyond training, influencing various spheres they engage with. Anton mentioned their upcoming trip to Finland to exchange experiences and collaborate with ministries of civil protection, aiming to learn from each other's expertise to find effective solutions.