In the first half of 2018, the experts assigned by the national agency revised the applications submitted between 2014 and 2018 by institutions which had regularly applied with and implemented projects in the public education mobilities category ever since the Erasmus+ programme had been launched. Before 2014, the Comenius mobility targeting public education institutions focused on the individual progress of teachers. From 2014, the Erasmus+ programme required an institution-oriented, strategic approach which also supported internal development in the long term. With the research, we primarily looked for answers to how this new approach appeared and, in time, changed in applications and reports.

The Long-Term Effects of Erasmus+ Mobility Projects in School Education

Internationalisation is a consciously controlled and complex process which relies on the knowledge, experience and development potentials inherent in international partnerships. The educational institution does not incidentally organise its international relations, but consciously looks for foreign relations and partners which support the realisation of the institutional goals, and relies on these relations to implement partnerships. (The School and the World. A Strategic Approach to International Relations, Tempus Public Foundation, 2016, p. 8)

One of the main goals of Erasmus+ school education programmes is to support internationalisation in institutions. Funding opportunities for developing international activities in Hungarian school education are scarce, and that makes the funding provided by the European Commission and Erasmus+ programmes especially significant.

Typically, the institutions in question had already gained international experience before launching the Erasmus+ programme, either by participating in the former Comenius programme, or through their international relations and traditions maintained otherwise. Being institutions which lay special emphasis on teaching foreign languages, they had already experienced the practical benefits of international activities. The initiators and organisers of international projects, the "engines" of internationalisation, were in most cases language teachers; they were also represented in large numbers among the participants of mobilities throughout the projects. However, through the years, the circle of participants was continuously expanded with non-language teacher colleagues, mainly science teachers.

Among the international mobilities offered within the school education programme (language course / continuing professional development / professional visit / teaching) most attended continuing professional development opportunities, which they had chosen taking into account the overall institutional goals and needs. The number of classroom observation type mobilities has remained insignificant. Initially, colleagues who had poorer language skills but whom their institutions wanted to involve in international activities in the long term (and more actively), were offered language courses abroad. In later projects, they could already be delegated to professional-methodological courses conducted in a foreign working language.

The vast majority of mobilities targeted English-speaking countries; the most frequently chosen destination was Great Britain. The colleagues looked for one or two-week-long courses, mostly during the summer holiday in Hungary, offered by course organisers engaged in international teacher training. There, far from their usual environment, they could concentrate on their own progress, and had a chance to gain experience about the methods studied as students. Meeting and working together with teachers from other countries helped professional self-reflection, and, in many cases, the new personal relationships provided a basis for later cooperation between institutions (e.g. eTwinning, Erasmus+ partnership projects). The knowledge and experiences gained during international mobilities were also made available for a wider audience through sharing within the school (which is a requirement in this programme type), and through reports made to the staff and work teams, workshops organised for colleagues, demo classes or simply during everyday interaction. The participants of former projects motivated their colleagues through their own personal examples, and later helped their practical preparation.

Since 2014, a so-called European Development Plan (EDP) has been an obligatory element of any school mobility project. It is meant to summarise the needs and goals of the institution in terms of quality development and internationalisation, the areas to be improved, the planned contribution of international mobilities and partnerships to all these, as well as the opportunities to integrate the competencies and experiences gained. Experience shows that preparing an EDP present a challenge even for experienced applicants. The cases examined demonstrated how internationalisation supported the general development goals of the institution and which high-priority needs mobility projects responded to. However, it was less common to find an analysis of the situation which covered the broader, national or local - e.g. social or economic - context of the institution, or which included facts, especially quantitative data derived from measurement, related to the operation of the institution. There was more emphasis on the general difficulties met during the institution's educational work, as well as on new challenges (such as the increasingly advanced digital competencies of the next generations and the need to adapt to that), the pressure on the institutions, arising from the decreasing number of children to be schooled, to attract children and their parents by providing more and better services.

Most of the individual reports focused on the content of the courses and the description of other programmes, especially with remarks on participants' satisfaction. The lack of factual information is most conspicuous in the field of measurement and evaluation; the institutions consistently performed worst in this area. In certain cases, they presented the same steps talking about monitoring, measurement and evaluation. It was only in a small number of the cases where we found goal-oriented, varied and adequate methods of measurement outcomes, and the institutions very rarely used clear and measurable (especially quantitative) indicators. Sometimes the relationship between the project and the expected outcome was not clear (e.g. the increased attraction of the institution due to a one-year-long mobility project).

Based on the documents examined, the institutions primarily made progress in identifying long-term goals and planning activities included in the actual projects. They are able to see and interpret internationalisation in the context of the institution as a whole. Similarly to individual learning, these same steps can help institutions in their learning process to gain knowledge from interpreting experiences, too. With a more and more precise specification of institutional goals and the matching project plans, the applicants are approaching the requirements of strategic planning, but the implementation shows considerable deficiencies in achievement-oriented approach and strategic management.

In an environment like Hungary, where the Erasmus+ projects are the main tools of internationalisation, and where the autonomy of institutions in terms of planning and controlling their own operation is relatively restricted, the efforts made by institutions which seek opportunities of self-development and, nevertheless, to apply a strategic approach, deserve special recognition, and their proven solutions can serve as examples to be followed. The analysis of project applications and reports provide very limited insight into the details of their work; it will require further, targeted research to learn in depth about the paths of development, the obstacles, the solutions and the experiences.

The article cites, literally or in an edited form, the writings of our expert KATALIN GYÖNGYÖSI.

Last modified: 24-04-2019