At the European Commission’s First European Education Summit, Commissioner Tibor Navracsics explored the importance of education and digital skills for social cohesion across the EU.
In January, the European Commission hosted the First European Education Summit in efforts to address inequality in the education system, contribute to the European Education Area, explore how education and digital skills can aid distribution of the EU’s common values and determine what competences will be needed for the future.
The commission’s initiative on the European Education Area was announced at the Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, in November 2017.1 The roadmap for education in the EU outlines both the commission’s vision for education, and the concrete steps which need to be made in order to guarantee this by 2025.
Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, opened the First European Education Summit in Brussels, Belgium, where he outlined the importance of gathering policymakers, the private sector and the public, in order to guarantee change. Government Europa Quarterly explores the initiatives of the European Commission in striving for education which works for the whole of the EU.
Learning from the past to guarantee the future
With guests from a range of member states and from varying sectors and backgrounds, the First European Education Summit was a meeting of those who share a common interest and commitment to quality education. Commissioner Tibor Navracsics said: “Your presence here today is crucial because education is back where it belongs – on top of the political agenda and I count on the support of everyone in this room to make sure that it stays there.”
Following several years of crisis, the need to form resilient societies which are, as a result, able to tackle the economic and societal challenges of the future. As we move towards harnessing potential, globalisation is of equal importance to that of consolidating social cohesion and areas whereby inequality is one of the most prominent issue on the road to success.
Navracsics concluded on this that: “This means, first of all, recognising that long term challenges are not less important than short term ones. In the past few years, education has been somehow absent from the political scene – this is something we cannot afford.” Education and culture is one of the key elements which help to foster cohesion amongst society.
He added that during the height of turbulence in the European Union, and as citizens doubted the EU’s “raison d’être”, however citizens are continuing to reap the benefits of the successful ERASMUS+ programme. “This shows the tangible impact and clear added value European policies bring to the lives of millions of citizens.”
Implementing a plan for change
As our societies become less cohesive, it will take active work and measures to ensure that they recover from division, making the European Union less equal than ever before. Therefore, the role of the European Commission in this is double-edged:
- “To re-engage with those who feel left behind; and
- To build more inclusive and resilient societies so that every person becomes the master of their own fate.”
Navracsics proposed that, as a result, Europeans should interrogate whether the EU’s societies are built on a well-supported foundation of common values and a sense of belonging, even before developing education and digital skills. “I believe it is time to rediscover the value of our values and address, upfront, the role of education in promoting them.”
In December, EU Heads of State communicated a clear message, providing concrete guidance through European Council conclusions, of which included a need for steps to be taken to further the European Skills Agenda under the area of social cohesion and a reiteration of the proposals of the commission under the European Education Area.2 Navracsics added: “What we need to do now is to lay the foundations for a solid European Education Area [and] to build it on the basis of a clear vision for what we want to achieve by 2025.”
The journey to equal education for all
As the opening to a myriad of discussions, Navracsics expressed his hopes that events such as the First European Education Area will direct the EU towards solidified foundations, greater excellence and innovation, increased equity and inclusion, and further exchange for pupils, students and teachers to develop education and digital skills. Some of those attending had disabilities, Navracsics acknowledged, but despite these disabilities he offered reassurance that as adequate policies are implemented, their potential is limitless.
Meanwhile, distinguished speakers are assisting in reinstating a sense of belonging to some of the EU’s most deprived areas. Navracsics also drew attention to “people who are using culture as an incredibly effective vector of integration, dreamers who are testing new approaches in their own schools, as well as teaching disciplines that are wrongly perceived as being difficult.”
A balance between private, policy and public sectors
Representatives of the private sector are the ones who have taken on the responsibility of ensuring that young people have the ability and infrastructure to develop entrepreneurial mindsets, whilst others are committed to equipping those same individuals with the education and digital skills required to turn them into active and responsible citizens within the digital world.
With over 500 participants, 50 speakers, and 20 ministers, speakers had the benefit of engaging in discussions with decision makers. As a result, “we can translate brilliant ideas into policy reforms and results on the ground”, Navracsics said.
Outlining several issues which the EU faces in education at the moment, the commissioner expressed a need to address:
- How basic sills can be improved, following the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA);
- How vital skills can be defined;
- Approaches to which young people can adopt the right attitudes; and
- Ways in which horizontal skills can be fostered.
“What is your vision of the European Education Area? We want to build together with you by 2025. Those are the questions we need to answer, so that we can lay the foundations of a truly value-based, inclusive and innovative education.”
The interoperability of policies for education and digital skills
In January, the commission launched their ‘Future of Learning Package’ in efforts to enhance education and digital skills and competency, but also to build the European Education Area. This digital action plan aims to ensure that young people are not only confident in using digital technologies, but digitally competent.
The European Education Area will propose several recommendations for member states in implementing policies for education and digital skills:
- Making mobility a reality for all – mobility across Europe can be enhanced through building on the foundations of Erasmus+, the European Solidarity Corps – the European Youth Portal – and the creation of the EU Student Card, of which is a user-friendly approach to store students’ academic records;
- Mutual recognition of diplomas – using the Bologna Process as the core building blocks, the Sorbonne Process will prepare for the mutual recognition of both higher education and school leaving diplomas;
- Improving language learning – by 2025, the commission aims to ensure that students within Europe will speak two languages, in addition to that of their mother tongue;
- Promoting lifelong learning – an objective which seeks to raise the share of people engaging in learning throughout their lives to a rate of 25% by 2025;
- Supporting teachers – the commission aims to multiply the number of teachers participating in Erasmus+ and the eTwinning network, as well as offering policy guidance;
- Creating a network of European universities – in efforts to establish world-class European universities, the commission will establish School of European and Transnational Governance; and
- Investing in education – using EU funding and EU investment instruments, the commission will establish a benchmark of 5% GDP of investment for member states.
Commissioner Navracsics concluded by saying: “This is the very first European Education Summit, but it will certainly not be the only one. Events like this one make more sense if they allow us to drive and report steady progress, acting as a catalyst for ever-greater political ambition. To conclude, I would like to quote Jonathan Swift who once said that: “Vision is the art of seeing invisible things.” Let us make sure that today’s exchanges enable us to see today, what will be tangible tomorrow.”