LLL Interest Group meeting at the European Parliament on 21 of March 2017.

Social inclusion on the table

With the release of a communication on improving and modernising education, the European Commission has presented an ambitious strategy to modernise and increase investment as well as accessibility in the field of education. The Lifelong Learning Interest Group wants to make sure that the principles are applied from the perspective of lifelong learning. Representatives from the Maltese Presidency of the European Council and DG EAC of the European Commission as well as civil society representatives discussed the principles of inclusiveness for improved and modernised education in a meeting on 21 of March 2017 at the European Parliament.

Although the focus of the communication is primarily on schools and higher education, the Lifelong Learning Interest Group highlighted the need for a lifelong learning perspective. In order to have that, links between formal, non-formal and informal learning, as well as cooperation of schools and higher education institutions with other sectors of education, need to be adequately addressed.

“We are here to find solutions on how we can put different levels and approaches of lifelong learning together,” stated MEP Sirpa Pietikainen (EPP), the Chair of the Lifelong Learning Interest Group.

One of the main priorities of the Maltese Presidency is to work on a more inclusive education. This is also reflected in a set of conclusions published by the European Council on 17 February 2017.

Maltese representative Jean Micaleff Grimaud pointed out that the overall aim of these conclusions was to underline the importance of high quality education.

“Education should be seen from a lifelong learning perspective, accessible to all, including those facing challenges.”

In line with this approach, the European Commission added a chapter on quality education in a communication on improving and modernising education. “We need quality education and we need it for all,” emphasised Fiorella Perotto from DG EAC.

While all participants stressed the importance of high quality education for all as the most effective way to address socio-economic inequalities and promote social inclusion as well as active citizenship, they also underlined the need to apply these principles to lifelong learning and not only to schools and higher education.

Rethinking equality and equity

The participants underlined the importance of fighting for equality and equity.

“However, we need to understand that equality and equity are not one and the same,” said Jean Micaleff Grimaud. This is why the Maltese Presidency advocates the promotion of inclusion as a fundamental value as much as democracy or human rights.

Gina Ebner, EAEA Secretary General, said that a better governance of education is paramount. She illustrated this with best practice examples from the OED project, as well as with an extensive presentation of the policy recommendations as part of the ImplOED activities.

“If we want to have more equity and equality, we also need someone who is responsible for that,” she stated.

Civil society organisations also contribute to advance the agenda on inclusiveness. Obessu, with its project called Seeds for integration, wants to show that all actors in school can support the inclusion of migrants and create an inclusive school community.

European Students’ Union, ESU, has a project to facilitate access for refugees to education. European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) has started a campaign to recognize study abroad and promote mobility in Europe. Projects on a grassroots level are key to implement inclusion in education.

The discussion also highlighted the need to provide resources to support inclusion.

“There should be a minimum of investment per capita used in teacher education, in non-formal education, and in lifelong learning,” said MEP Sirpa Pietikainen.

ESU also drew attention to cuts in education. “We should see inclusion in all its aspects: if you want education to be more inclusive, it is not possible if you cut resources,” said Liva Vikmane.


Cooperation and institutionalisation

A holistic approach is crucial when it comes to education. “Formal and non-formal education are limited if they are too separated,” claimed Marguerite Potard from the the World Scout Bureau.

“We need more equal footing of the system,” reported Gina Ebner. “The formal system has to work within the formal structure and the non-formal system is much more flexible to work with the needs of people. If we manage to link those two systems it will be a key point.”

About the need to institutionalise the dialogue and bring more key actors around the table, the Maltese Presidency plans to invite, at the next Presidential Council in May, students as participants.

Obessu’s Larissa Nenning stressed the importance of institutionalising.

“We should ensure young people and learners are continuously consulted for all aspects.”

Youth for Exchange and Understanding (YEU) also recalled the importance of the organisations’ inclusiveness. A mix of formal and non-formal structures is key to inclusive education, but cannot be considered without more investment, a learner centered approach and the help of both policy makers and civil society.

“This is a cross sectorial field, and it is vital to have all the people together,” Panagiotis Chatzimichail from YEU summarised.

Initiated by EAEA and Lifelong Learning Platform together with a number of MEPs, the Interest Group on Lifelong Learning brings together civil society representatives and MEPs to discuss key issues connected to lifelong learning with strong emphasis on adult education.

Text: Lou-Andréa PinsonPhotos: Brikena Xhomaqi

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