Can Education Be Improved?

The Commission has launched an education strategy calling for greater use of ICT and the development of new skills including more entrepreneurial skills, and for Member States to strengthen links between education and employers.

Other proposed measures include a new benchmark on language learning, guidelines on the assessment and development of entrepreneurship education, and an EU-level impact analysis on the use of ICT and open educational resources (OER) in education.

The Commission strongly believes European education must focus more on developing entrepreneurial skills and a sense of initiative in order to equip youngsters for the modern competitive job market.

The strategy will pave the way for a new initiative in 2013 on Opening-up Education, which will aim to maximise the potential of ICT for learning.

Context

The strategy, in the form of a Commission Communication, comes as part of an EU-level initiative aimed at better addressing the needs of the economy and to tackle youth unemployment, which is close to 23% across the EU. At the same time, there are more than 2 million vacancies that cannot be filled.

The demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related skills will continue to be high. By 2020, 20% more jobs will require higher level skills.

There is also growing awareness that special emphasis needs to be put on language learning in order to increase competitiveness, employability and mobility in today’s globalised world.

The Strategy

To address these issues, the EU proposes to:
• develop world-class vocational education and training 
• promote work based learning 
• promote public-private partnerships
• enhance mobility via future Erasmus for All programme
The new strategy outlines an EU-wide coordinated approach to education and training, in response to newly-emerging challenges. It focuses on the delivery of the right skills for employment, increasing the efficiency and inclusiveness of EU education and training institutions and stakeholder collaboration. The Commission’s proposals would supplement national actions.

The Communication is accompanied by:
• country dossiers outlining performance and policy reforms
• the first edition of the Education and Training Monitor
• five Staff Working Documents describing policy evidence and good practice

Key Proposals

Skills for the 21st Century

Skills need to be developed in a number of areas. Higher education qualifications are becoming more important; by 2020, 20% more jobs will require higher level skills. Entrepreneurial skills need to be reinforced, in order to contribute to the employability of young people.

The demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related skills will continue to increase. Priority must be given to STEM skills in education. Fundamental skills, such as literacy, numeracy and basic maths and science must also be supported. Some 20% of 15-year olds lack these basic skills.

Levels of adult learning are still low. Only 8.9% adults participate in lifelong learning and this needs to be improved. Special emphasis also needs to be put on language learning to increase competitiveness, employability and mobility.

With only six member states having developed a specific strategy for entrepreneurial education, the Commission also plans to publish policy guidance to support this area further in 2013.

Vocational education and training (VET) needs to build upon transversal and basic skills to promote innovation and growth. VET also needs to be demand-driven and work-based learning should be promoted, in order to facilitate the transition to work from education. Businesses need to actively contribute to the shaping of curricula.

VET can and should mitigate the skills shortages on labour markets, especially in growth and progressive sectors such as ICT, health and low-carbon technologies.

However, more cooperation at the EU level is needed. To this end, Education Ministers will sign a memorandum of cooperation on VET in December this year. In support of member states’ initiatives, the Commission will establish a new EU-level Alliance for Apprenticeships.

Stimulating open and flexible learning

Achievement in education should be measured by the level of knowledge, skills and competences acquired by students (in other words, learning outcomes). Assessment should be based on the proper definition of these learning outcomes. They also need to be assessed, validated and recognised outside the educational system.

Qualifications need to be mobile and transferable across the EU. This is already supported via specific European frameworks. These include e. g. European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and European Credit Transfer Systems (ECTS and ECVET), among others. More coherence and coordination is still needed though, through the proposed European Area of Skills and Qualifications.

Qualifications also need to be recognised across the EU, irrespective of the country of their issue. This is especially true for higher education degrees. This development continues under the Bologna process.

Technology offers vast opportunities for improving quality, access and equality in education and training. A coherent strategy at the EU level could facilitate the involvement of all stakeholders in the development of open educational resources.

Special emphasis should also be placed on the use of ICT in learning and training. Dedicated communities of practices and hubs of ICT-based excellence should be further developed. Freely available knowledge should be utilised.

Teachers also need to be supported in order to face the new challenges of implementing quality teaching and learning. Teachers are currently demographically challenged and largely understaffed. Teachers need new set of skills and competences to keep up with the evolution of educational and training methods. This could be done through the establishment of competence frameworks or professional profiles for teachers.

Equally important is the support for new approaches to VET teaching and learning, as well as the quality of teaching at higher level. A High Level Group on Modernisation of Higher Education will be set up by the Commission to outline recommendations on this issue.

Promoting collaboration

Continued investment in education and training is essential for increasing competitiveness, productivity and economic growth. Efficient investment could be achieved via private engagement, as a supplement to public funds (cost sharing). These public-private partnerships (PPPs) provide considerable returns for both parties.

The proposed Erasmus for All Programme aims to support investment in education, namely trough mobility, cooperation and infrastructure. It will also provide incentives for PPPs.

Public-private partnerships could also enhance mutual learning by providing a platform for targeting the right skills. This would also incorporate private stakeholders in the development process of new strategies. This partnership approach is also vital for the success of Youth Guarantee schemes. Different types are already promoted at the EU level (e. g. Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) or the Grand Coalition for ICT Jobs.

Next steps

The Commission calls on member state authorities and stakeholders to implement these reforms in education and training.

These proposals will be reflected in the European Semester. The Commission will also use European dialogue platforms (e. g. Open Method of Coordination in the field of Education and Training, the Bologna process for Higher Education and the Copenhagen process for VET and funding instruments) to stress the importance of these priorities.