MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, Chair of the Interest Group on Lifelong Learning, opened the debate that brought together key stakeholders in education and lifelong learning.
09.12.2020

Towards a sustainable European Education Area?

A high-level panel debate during the meeting of the Lifelong Learning Interest Group on 1 December 2020 launched a discussion on key issues related to the European Education Area. The discussion took place virtually during the Lifelong Learning Week 2020 and brought together more than 60 key stakeholders in the education, learning and training sector.

A call for more Europe in education

In her opening speech, MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, Finland) addressed one of the central problems concerning education policy at European level: “We need more Europe in education,” referring to the fact that although Europe is working on a common education area, in the field of education the Member States still have exclusive legislative powers. Furthermore, she addressed the financing of educational measures: “If more financial resources are not made available, we will not be able to offer adequate jobs for the skills available in the future”. She underlined that lifelong learning is constitutive for Europe’s future and that this also requires greater appreciation and better training of teaching staff.

“European cooperation can enrich the inclusiveness and digitalisation of education,” said Janine Costa, Education Attachée of the Portuguese Permanent Representation, underlining the EU added-value.

A European Education Area for all generations

Ms Costa mentioned a central issue: “The European Education Area lacks a holistic approach to education that takes into account all areas of lifelong learning.” In order to overcome this, all relevant stakeholders, including academics, should work together at national and EU level to build a future-proof strategy. Ms Costa said that the next steps towards a common education area will be undertaken during the Portuguese Council Presidency; however, that the success of any initiative relies on the collaboration between the Member States, the European institutions as well as representatives and stakeholders at the national level.

Education and lifelong learning are equally important for older learners and seniors. We must take this into account in European policy.

MEP Radka Maxová (Renew Europe, Czech Republic) highlighted the limited recognition of the needs of senior citizens no longer active in the labour market. “Education and lifelong learning are equally important for older learners and seniors. We must take this into account in European policy”. As the EU’s population ages, education systems should adapt to these changing circumstances and support the promotion of active and healthy ageing. “Digital literacy and competences of all generations, including older learners, are just some of the aspects we need to address in the future,” said Ms Maxová.

Policy coherence is a critical point

Over the next few years, two main strategies will guide EU policies in the field of education and training, namely the European Education Area mainly focusing on the formal education sector and the Skills Agenda which is centred around adult learning and skills acquisition.

It is necessary that initiatives are coherent with other initiatives, but also in themselves. This includes building bridges between the Skills Agenda, the European Education Area and other strategies, such as the SME strategy.

Carlo Scatoli, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the Commission, addressed the issue of policy coherence: “It is necessary that initiatives are coherent with other initiatives, but also in themselves. This includes building bridges between the Skills Agenda, the European Education Area and other strategies, such as the SME strategy,” he said. At the same time, he expressed his confidence that these challenges can be met through global level cooperation, citing the successful work on recognition of international qualifications.

In Mr Scatoli’s view, the European path to digitisation could trigger better coherence in education policy, aiming to increase the digital literacy of the population. “This will require major efforts by Member States, various European bodies and all other stakeholders. Civil society will play a key role in this process”, he said.

Need for equity of learning provision

“Our society must learn lessons from the current crisis and improve learning opportunities for all”, said Tatjana Babrauskiene, European Economic and Social Committee and European Trade Union Committee for Education.

I want to underline the role of social and citizenship skills that are needed by all citizens. This is a pre-condition for the development of a European Education Area.

“Work on upskilling and reskilling is particularly important for vulnerable groups such as women and girls. But at the same time, it is also a necessity for the workforce, especially when we think of active citizenship. Soft skills must be further promoted as they bring benefits to both society and the workforce,” said Ms Babrauskiene who also called for better opportunities for the further training of teachers at all levels of education. “I want to underline the role of social and citizenship skills that are needed by all citizens. This is a pre-condition for the development of a European Education Area”.

Oonagh Aitken, Volonteurope and Lifelong Learning Platform Steering Committee Member, affirmed that European education must not be revolutionary but evolutionary. “We need more synergies between policies. Five years is an ambitious timeframe for the objectives of the European Education Area, so the targets must also be ambitious,” she said, emphasising civil society’s role in implementing the European Education Area, but also in the negotiations on the design of education strategies. Ms Aitken added that better financing is needed, citing that “Erasmus+ needs significant investment to become truly inclusive,” and that “we need equity of learning provision”.

Cooperation and collaboration between all stakeholders is key to inclusive education

Several interventions by civil society stakeholders following the panel confirmed the need for more synergies between European policies in the field of education, and for teacher training accompanied by adequate funding. Agnieszka Szplit, Association for Teacher Education in Europe, said that “we need to focus on teacher autonomy” and noted that communities for practitioners and the exchange of good practice from teachers’ experience are as valuable as research into teaching methods.

The issue of promoting mental health through education was taken up by EMDR Europe, with reference to the human dimension in EU policies on education and lifelong learning. Alice Modena, Euroclio, also stressed that currently education policies focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and maths) rather than on humanities, and that teacher training must give more space to diversity aspects such as gender, religion and philosophy so as to promote social skills and support inclusive education. Arja Krauchenberg, European Parents’ Association and Lifelong Learning Platform President, said that the pandemic has shown that parents need to be empowered to support their children’s education and development.

Uwe Gartenschlaeger, moderator of the debate and President of the European Association for the Education of Adults, noted in his conclusions that “the meeting shows that cooperation and collaboration between actors in the field of education and lifelong learning is a key issue when considering how to achieve a European Area of Education”.

Text: EAEA, Raffaela KihrerPhotos: EAEA

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