Underpinning the Role of the European Education Area in Supporting Europe to Achieve Agenda 2030
Last week, over 70 EU policy and decision makers, education experts and civil society representatives came together for a multi-stakeholder panel discussion on how the European Education Area (EEA) could help Europe on its path to achieving Agenda 2030.
Organised by Bridge 47, the event was moderated by Bridge 47 Chair Rilli Lappalainen, and co-hosted by MEP Dace Melbārde (ECR) and MEP Michaela Šojdrová (PPE), who set the tone with their opening remarks:
MEP Dace Melbārde (ECR) highlighted the European Education Area (EEA) as an ambitious and timely initiative, but one where more work needs to be done to align the EEA to Agenda 2030, as meeting SDG Target 4.7 is not optional if we want to achieve Europe’s Green Agenda. MEP Michaela Šojdrová (PPE) affirmed the importance of quality education in the face of current and future challenges, suggesting that the EEA is well placed to support Europe to achieve its Agenda 2030 goals.
Opening the panel discussion, speakers and audience were asked to identify, in one word, the purpose and role of education today, responding with a first reaction with some key words such as: empowerment, critical thinking, self-efficacy, resilient society, development of skills and competencies, active citizenship and competencies.
The panellists, MEP Victor Negrescu (S&D), MEP Irena Joveva (Renew), Gyula Cserey, Head of Unit EAC A1 (DG EAC), Janine Costa, Education Attaché for the Portuguese Permanent Representation to the EU, and Nils-Eyk Zimmermann, Secretary of the DARE Network had a fruitful discussion around two key questions:
What skills and competences are needed today to equip citizens for global challenges?
MEP Victor Negrescu pointed out that “there’s an understanding that today’s classrooms look like the classrooms of 30 years ago, and very few changes have been made”. “We need a clear assessment of what education is today, and what it will be tomorrow” he emphasised. “We have to improve infrastructure, invest in training for teachers, have adequate resources for education to ensure teachers and professors are paid fairly, introduce robotics and AI, speak about green education, and make sure that education is adapted to our current needs, but also with an orientation to future needs and challenges.”
Ms Janine Costa suggested “skills and competencies are fundamental to the capacity of people and countries. Education and training systems should provide individuals at all stages of life the opportunity to develop key competencies to cope with current and future transformations in society. These competencies should be developed from a lifelong learning perspective, in formal, non-formal and informal learning contexts.”
In what ways can a common, holistic educational vision for Europe support the achievement of Agenda 2030?
MEP Irena Joveva indicated that "since education is a prerequisite to achieving any goal in the future, we should be more ambitious and double down on the Commission’s proposed actions such as education for climate coalition and provide adequate funding for educational systems". However, she emphasised that "identity comes spontaneously through enrichment in society, so should invest more in the cross border cultural sector instead of forcing European identity in textbooks over other identities. We have seen growing totalitarian models inside the EU, so it’s important to educate young people about our current challenges such as the climate crisis, democratic backsliding, the role of media, recent modern history, critical thinking and reflection on the digital environment and our place within it."
Mr Gyula Cserey outlined "the Commission's holistic approach to education is inspired by the multi-dimensional approach in the UN sustainable development goals. Firstly, we view education for personal fulfilment and employability as supportive of one another, and want to ensure we have good policy coherence between all our policy priorities. Secondly, we want to ensure we have commonality in everything we do in Europe, across all levels, and ensure whole education and training ecosystems are on board. Where these two components come together are in the effort to create a true culture of Lifelong Learning at all levels, through formal, non-formal and informal opportunities".
Mr Nils-Eyk Zimmermann highlighted that "two years ago, Fridays for Future and Greta Thunberg reminded us that education is not just an issue for the young. We need to emphasise a Lifelong Learning perspective, which I don’t see this reflected in the EEA as it primarily focuses on formal and higher education. I encourage parliamentarians to take non-formal education and education for democratic citizenship, civic education, more seriously. We need to prepare citizens for a transition. In civil society, civic engagement is a non-formal learning space. Let’s look for cohesion between other programmes build synergies.”
In the open discussion, MEP Victor Negrescu and MEP Irena Joveva explored citizenship education as a tool which could inform citizens of their rights and responsibilities, and the important balance of students learning about the EU and citizenship, while allowing room for critical reflection.
MEP Dace Melbārde highlighted the benefits and challenges of seeking balance amongst diverse needs in education, and how education could benefit from increased partnerships with different sectors. In response, Mr Nils-Eyk Zimmermann emphasised the need to overcome prejudices that sometimes come with soft-skills and non-formal education, and how we should challenge civil society to step up and take a bigger role in education.
Ms Janine Costa invited participants to look at Member States’ reaction to the Commission’s communications on the EEA, and how Member States and the council want to frame cooperation in education and training over the next decade, which would be from an inclusive, holistic and lifelong learning perspective. .
It was highlighted that many participants resonated with the critical thinking aspect of skills and competencies needed, as well as global citizenship and breaking silos.
In response to a question from a participant on what could be done to achieve the EEA ambitions sooner, MEP Victor Negrescu and MEP Irena Joveva affirmed the important role of Member States to ensuring EEA targets were achieved. Negrescu suggested Member States needed to recognise the changes needed and implement recommendations coming from the commission, and how we needed to allocate adequate resources to achieve this. From a Member States perspective, Ms Janine Costa stressed that EU level targets are EU level references for Member States, and it’s important that Member States can establish their own national targets linked to EEA targets. Mr Gyula Cserey added that it’s important to maintain the momentum behind education and training that has been built so far to meet our EEA target by 2025.
A graphic recording of the event, created by Gabriele Schlipf, was shared with panellists and participants to close the event.