Education and training issues are becoming a high priority both for the EU and the states. Strange enough, national education policies are still almost fully in the hands of local authorities only “supplemented” by the EU funds. However, main global and European challenges can be affectively resolved only by certain adequate measures in the states towards sustainable growth and digital transition, the process greatly depended on adapting the states’ education systems to socio-economic priorities and labour market requirements. Within the next five-seven years the member states have to draft new systems of education and training fit for “post-pandemic” recovery and resilience.
Two recent EU’s initiatives in “revolutionizing” educational and training sector, i.e. one general and another specific (oriented towards digital issues) are definitely in the right direction, though additional initiatives are needed to train specialists in sustainability, circular economy, green and “smart” growth.
The European Education Area initiatives (so-called EEAs) are to achieve a EU-wide approach by strengthening states’ training programs contributing to resolving modern social, economic, digital and other challenges towards sustainable growth. Hence, education and training is closely connected to other European programs including the Next Generation EU and reflected in the long-term budget for 2021-27.
The EEA is based on the decades of “educational cooperation” with the states; the last decades’ strategic framework for such cooperation, so-called ET-2020 program, helped build trust and mutual understanding to support the Union’s educational initiatives. The latter, inter alia, include such issues as the reduction of early school leaving and increasing governments’ participation in all education sectors, from early childhood to tertiary education. Besides, the national policies have recognized the need for additional education investment which will finally contribute to economic growth and social inclusion; however, quite a few EU states can afford such investments: on average, public spending on education is around 10 per cent of total public spending.
Efforts to achieve the EEA-2025 goals are supported by Europe’s Recovery Plan (NextGenerationEU) and the Erasmus+ program. These and other measures shall encourage reforms towards an optimal synergy with other EU programs, e.g. the European Skills Agenda, the renewed Vocational Education and Training policy and the European Research Area.
The EEA’s general idea is to strengthen the contribution of education and training to the member stats’ recovery from the coronavirus crisis, and help build a green and digital Europe.
EEA-2025: two main components
In September 2020, the Commission adopted two initiatives aimed at strengthening contribution of education and training to the member states’ recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Setting out a vision for a European Education Area to be achieved by 2025 (in short, EEA-2025), the Commission suggested more investment and stronger states cooperation to help people of all ages benefit from the Union’s rich education and training support measures.
The general directions towards EEA-2025 include: – spending time abroad to study and learn should become the norm; – school and higher education qualifications should be recognized across the EU-27; – knowing two languages in addition to one’s mother tongue should be standard; – everyone should be able to access high-quality education, irrespective of their socio-economic background; and -people should have a strong sense of their identity as a European, of Europe’s cultural heritage and its diversity.
On European Education Area: https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/european-education-area_en
Thus, the Commission’s package of measures is addressing the following main tasks: – key competences for lifelong learning; – digital skills, and – common values and inclusive education measures. More in: https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/european-education-area_en
The first initiative is of a general nature: i.e. towards EEA-2025 with investment and stronger support for the states in creating modern “fit for future Europe” education programs. The EEA outlines extensive cooperation among the states and the EU institutions to further enrich the quality, inclusiveness as well as digital and green dimension in education systems.
The second initiative is of a more specific nature aimed at The European Digital Education Area, which is essential for the member states’ recovery and future socio-economic progress. This is an essential part of the EU’s common vision of the future of education linked to commitments towards the digital and green transitions with sufficient synergies between the two initiatives. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_20_1743
a) European education area by 2025
The European Education Area’s efforts (EEA-2025) include six main dimensions: – education quality, – inclusion and gender equality, – green and digital transitions, – teachers, – higher education, and – stronger Europe in the world.
Besides, these efforts will help to enhance quality with regard to basic and digital skills and to make school education more inclusive and successful; at the same time, they will help strengthen understanding of climate change and sustainability, foster the greening of education infrastructure, support the teaching profession and enhance connectivity among education and training institutions.
The EU institutions set out means and milestones to achieve the EEA-2025, supported by Europe’s Recovery Plan (NextGenerationEU) and the Erasmus+ programme. In addition, it proposes a framework for cooperation with the states and engagement with education stakeholders, including a reporting and analysis structure, with agreed education targets, to encourage and track reforms.
Efforts to establish the EEA will work in synergy with the European Skills Agenda, the renewed Vocational Education and Training policy and the European Research Area.
b) Digital education area plan, DEAP-2027
The second one is of a more specific direction turning attention to the digital education and training: the new Digital Education Action Plan, DEAP-2027 is aimed at creating optimal and high-performing digital education ecosystem with enhanced digital competences for the digital transformation in the states. On digital education plan in: https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/digital-education-action-plan_en
More than 15 per cent of the pupil population in the EU-27 has insufficient digital skills. In addition, evidence from the OECD indicates that lower secondary teachers in EU countries only rarely receive training on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for teaching, and that teachers report a strong need for professional development in the use of ICT skills for teaching.
The DEAP-2027 proposes a set of initiatives for high quality, inclusive and accessible digital education in Europe. It is a call to action for stronger cooperation among states at European level to make education and training systems truly fit for the digital age.
Thus, the DEAP requires the following measures: – infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment; – effective digital capacity planning and development, including up-to-date organisational capabilities; – digitally competent and confident teachers and education and training staff; – high-quality learning content, user-friendly tools and secure platforms which respect privacy and ethical standards.
The coronavirus crisis has put distance learning at the centre of education practices. This has shed light on the pressing need to improve digital education, as a key strategic objective for high-quality teaching and learning in the digital age. Moving into “post-pandemic” stage, the states need strategic and longer-term approaches to digital education and training.
The DEAP is a cornerstone of the Union’s efforts to support the digital transition in Europe; it builds on the first digital education action plan adopted in January 2018, running to the end of 2020, with a wider scope going beyond formal education, and with a longer duration, running until 2027.
The DEAP-2027 has two long-term strategic priorities: a) fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem and b) enhancing digital competences for the digital transformation. In order to strengthen the cooperation and exchange in digital education, the Commission will create a European Digital Education Hub, which will foster collaboration and synergies between policy areas relevant to digital education, create a network of national advisory services and strengthen the dialogue between stakeholders from the public and private sector.
Education and training have faced huge disruption due to COVID-19 followed by a quick shift to distance and online learning; massive use of technology has revealed gaps and exposed weaknesses while showing momentum to shape and modernise education for the digital age. This is also an opportunity to reset education and training for the digital age: most people see the pandemic crisis as a turning point for using technology in education and training.
Business and training in post-COVID period
Labour market needs vocational education and training (VET) as an important instrument in economic and social recovery during post-COVID period. It encourages people of all ages to develop their skills in line with the strategic member states’ digital-green transition.
Presently, the main direction in adapting to changing labour market is on higher VET (post-upper secondary school level) and “ordinary” VET skills for green and digital transitions. In particularly through establishing a culture of lifelong and continuous digital education, promotion of digital learning platforms, as well as in implementation of sustainable VET structures.
The EU supports vocational education and training through its funds in the 2021-27 period by increasing attention with the European Social Fund Plus and Erasmus+, as well as in up- and re-skilling, which shall be a priority investment in the states. It has never been more important for VET providers, companies, trade unions, governments and other partners to deliver relevant skills for lifelong learning.
According to the Commission’s proposal on extended VET (July 2020), this kind of training shall be more modern, attractive, flexible and fit for the digital age and the green transition. VET accounts for about half of the upper secondary graduates in the EU and helps in preparation of young people to successfully enter labour market through up-skilling and re-skilling: a) for people in employment to help them to continuously upgrade their skills, adjust them to the changing work requirements or negotiate job changes, and b) for the unemployed to help them acquire the skills needed to re-enter the labour market. More generally, VET empowers “the learners” with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to thrive in their professional, social and personal development.
The situation in VET was further aggravated during pandemic by the fact that practical training – in form of work-based learning and apprenticeships – has been suspended in most sectors.
VET proposals were included into other Commission initiatives, such as the ‘European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience” and the Communication on “youth employment support as a bridge to jobs for the next generation”.