EU member states’ future is rested on youth supplied with a proper education and training: knowledgeable youth is eager to follow government’s reforms in all levels of education and vocational training. European Commission urged the states to submit draft reform’s plans in the fall of 2020, with a final approval in spring-2021. The “educational labour unions”, as the main bodies assisting governments in education, can provide necessary support in “educational transition” towards new facets in growth facing global and European challenges.
Since the major challenges appeared in the world and in Europe: e.g. the 4th industrial revolution (coped with the digital agenda), the Paris climate agreement in 2015, and the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2016, to name a few, the modern national governance started to draft reforms in educating and training workforce for the new facets in socio-economic growth.
The pandemic’s negative and often devastating effect on all walks of life forced to activate national governance in the European states, as well as the EU institutions in transforming educational policies to tackle modern challenges. The EU institutions were most active in the process: e.g. the Commission, as the EU’s executive institution, has been providing the states with both advice and financial support in dealing with the contemporary challenges; with these challenges in mind, the states are facing a creation of a “new generation of workforce, students and researchers…
Note: There is a solid information source, Comparative Education as an international journal of educational studies that contains up-to-date information with analyses of significant problems and trends world-wide. The journal focuses specifically on the implications of comparative studies in the formation and implementation of policies in education, as well as in social, national and international development. Reference to: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3099340.
For several years, the modern “climate generation” has been raising its voice and is now fighting more than ever for sustainability in politics. All sorts of “greens” are heavily supported by many young people. Some new facets have appeared in modern environmental movements looking further ahead: both because youth believes that all party programs (including “greens”) shall set serious and ambitious goals, and because the youth’s future depends on modernized political economy. There is a major task in modern political economy in exploring universities and the whole education system’s transformation towards sustainable growth…
The states’ recovery-resilience plans
Some recent European “State of the Union” addresses (the so-called SOTUs) in 2020-2021, during the post-pandemic period, formulated some main challenges and solutions for perspective socio-economic growth in the member states. Commission’s orientation for national governments includes directions with serious implications for national recovery and resilience. The national governance has to prepare recovery and resilience plans that include a coherent package of reforms and public investment projects to be implemented up to 2026 in order to be supported by the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility maximum volume of loans for each state will be about 6 percent of Gross National Income; for Latvia it could be about €5 billion.
In order to be feasible, the national reform plan shall fulfill the following “European rules”: a) effectively contribute to addressing modern national challenges; b) contain measures that effectively contribute to green and digital transitions; and c) contribute to strengthening the growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience of the state.
Silver bullets in national recovery and resilience
The Commission strongly encourages member states’ government to include in their recovery and resilience plans some perspective priority’s directions for reforms in the workforce and priority’s investments.
The “silver bullet” term is a metaphor for a simple, seemingly “magical” solution to a difficult problem; it is also a symbol of fairness and justice.
Among the priority areas there are some that both directly involved in educational reforms and some that are indirectly connected. Among the former are, generally, those of digital technology, e.g. modernising and activating digitalisation processes in all sphere of education systems; facilitating wide transition of the rapid broadband services to all countries’ regions and households, including fiber and 5G networks. However, most important part of seven “silver bullets” suggested by the Commission for the member states is the so-called “re-skill and up-skill” agenda, which means adaption of Latvian education systems to modern challenges: i.e. mainly through the support digital skills, as well as modern educational and vocational training facilities for all ages – from schools to colleges to universities and further on.
Among indirectly-connected items (but which shall be somehow included in educational programs too) are the following: sustainability issues, e.g. accelerated development and use of future-proof clean technologies and renewables; energy efficiency in public and private construction sectors; sustainable, accessible and “smart” transport means with and extended public transport, etc. Additional information in the links: – Recovery and Resilience Facility – Grants allocation; and – The European Semester.
Issues to be reformed and modernized: Latvian example
The “governance’s” issues are most important in formulating political and economic guidelines for a national perspective growth. In the member states, the governance is balancing between the EU-wide and the national political priorities, while both are oriented towards “common goods” reflected in the peoples’ wellbeing. The latter is seen in the “happiness index”: on one side the wellbeing issue seems rather good: “happiness” situation in the Baltic States and Latvia looks quite positive compared to other states. Among 156 countries in the world by “happiness levels”, based on six main “happiness factors”: GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity and level of corruption, Latvia ranks 53 between Romania and Japan; Estonia ranks 63 -between Bolivia and Paraguay and Lithuania’ 50th ranks – between Belize and Slovenia. Compared with the data from 2008, Latvia is one of the best in positive changes of happiness’s indices.
All the top countries in the report tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity, to such a degree that year to year changes in the top ranking are to be expected. More in “World Happiness Report”:
Another aspect of mitigating risks is creating “national food trademarks”: adding value with the CAP’s “quality schemes through quality policy”, the EU provides a number of measures to help European agro-producers build on the high quality reputation to sustain competitiveness and profitability; this issue is of utmost importance for the east-European “entrants” to the EU, which have to procure their products on the age-old market of the “old-EU states”.
A key tool in this is the register of more than 1 300 protected food names which are classified as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) or a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG). The production of these registered quality products contributes to diversity, development and growth in the rural areas where they are produced and protects local knowledge, skills and jobs.
For example, presently, France has 233 food products registered, of which 98 as PDO (such as Roquefort or Beurre d’Isigny), 134 as PGI (such as Saint-Marcellin, Sel de Guérande/ Fleur de sel de Guérande or Melon de Guadeloupe) and one as TSG (Moules de Bouchot).
In contrast, the Baltic States are having just 4-5 items each classified and recognized in the EU as witnessing “national and European food perfection”.
An overall agro-food situation in some Baltic States (e.g. in Latvia) is reflected in national programs adopted by the EU; in Latvia it is the National Development Program-2027 (composed of 137 pages!) adopted at a special Parliament session in June 2020. This plan has four socio-economic priorities: a) productivity, profitability and quality of life, b) adequate regional development, c) equal opportunities (GINI-coefficient in Latvia is still 35%), and d) knowledge society. Source: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI
However, an alternative approach to priorities was suggested too: a cross-sectoral governmental group, composed of at least 14 members (representatives from 9 Latvian ministries, 3 other state bodies, foreign investment council and trade-industrial chamber), decided in November 2020 that the main “development themes” for the country are slightly different: i.e. a) digitalisation and innovation, b) nature and culture, c) human resources, and d) education.
Education priorities in modern challenges
In view of the modern challenges, the EU member states have to transform the educational system in a way adequate to these challenges. The World Commission on Environment and Development in the fundamental report “Our Common Future” (although it dates back to 1987, it still possesses very vital solutions for national governance) defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising on the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The integrated nature of sustainable development was strongly emphasized. Combating poverty and addressing health, economic growth and equity is as necessary as the environment protection measures, in general.
However, some focal aspects in development shall be mentioned specifically: e.g. circular and sustainable development, with some specific goal for secondary and higher education: The individual learner should have adequate skills and competence relevant to their future professions and future roles in decision-making. Higher education should also play an active role locally, nationally, and internationally in enhancing knowledge and action competence regarding sustainable development through research and education in co-operation with the national priorities in growth.
According to the EU’s sub-regional strategy, each country in the Baltic Sea Region should adopt a framework for sustainable development for schools and higher education, as well as in the field of non-formal education and special training courses. Universities shall stimulate the development of co-operation, especially international co-operation, for curricula, program and course development at all levels of education in view of sustainability growth.
In this regard, a concept of “lifelong learning, LL” shall be taken into account as an integral part of the learning system which goes throughout life, either continuously or periodically. LL stimulates and empowers individuals to acquire all the knowledge, values, skills and understanding they require throughout their changing lifetime and to apply them with creativity in all transforming circumstances. LL enriches the concept of education through attention to the spread of knowledge taking place in numerous socio-economic transformations. Besides, LL has the potential of bringing together the formal and informal learning into a modern education policy: useful and perspective job-oriented learning in all society’s sectors; it also makes the national governance introduce new types of learning applicable at all stages of human existence that is changing in times.
Continuing education and training covers activities aimed at updating, refreshing or extending knowledge and skills needed after basic education at the level of addressing new socio-economic challenges. Source: http://www.hu2.se/hu2old/Baltic21E.pdf
During the numerous emergency responses in the COVID-pandemic’s outbreak, access to schools, universities and other education institutions to 100 million pupils and learners in the EU has been restricted or even prohibited in the member states. While online teaching and learning became the norm in education, the quick and sudden online transition has exposed several gaps both in digital infrastructures and teachers’ skills. In order to tackle the emergency of the issues and the educational recovery in the states, the European Commission has updated its vision for a European Education Area by 2025 and adopted a renewed Digital Education Action Plan.
These EU’s efforts were based on lessons learned from the post-COVID crisis and have been intended to provide young Europeans with opportunities to strengthening the contribution of education and training to the European recovery.
The Digital Education Action Plan: a) offers the states a long-term strategy for high-quality, inclusive and accessible European digital education; b) addresses modern challenges which have led to the unprecedented use of technology for education and training; c) seeks stronger cooperation among the states in digital education and underscores the importance of working together across socio-economic sectors; d) presents opportunities, including improved quality and quantity of teaching concerning digital technologies, support for the digitalisation of teaching methods and create infrastructure required for the resilient remote learning.
To achieve these goals, the Commission suggests two key “instruments”: a) fostering development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem, and b) enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation.
More on digital education: https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/digital-education-action-plan_en
Political economy: importance of sectoral education
In its landmark “from farm-to-fork strategy”, the European Commission sets out to foster a transition in the EU food system to improve its fairness, healthfulness and environmental sustainability. Therefore the EU efforts are aimed at addressing these objectives extensively in order to introduce in the member states a fairer and healthier agro-food system.
Agro-ecology has become one of the main directions in the Commission’s recommendations towards “future farming” in the member states, as a concept and a movement that encompasses both the environmental and agronomic benefits of sustainable farming. Hence, agro-ecological food systems are oriented both towards a fair treatment of farmers in the food production/processing sectors and towards creating changes in consumption’s patterns; both are aimed at increasing peoples’ wellbeing.
The appearing trend towards a large-scale industrial agriculture with a high degree of mechanization and the labour force that is often seasonal and short-term in the nature of agro-production; for example, in the EU-27, about four million people employed in European agriculture (out of total ten million), in addition to landowners and their families, are only temporarily employed as the profit from a “main employment” do not suffice for a decent living conditions. As the EU member states are engaged in combating the post-COVID effects, the national governments are being committed to continue work towards a better future where people and nature thrive together: getting the future of agro-food and farming systems right is a crucial part of it. Reference to: https://meta.eeb.org/2021/01/13/future-farming-cultivating-people-friendly-food-systems/
For example, in Latvian agro-sector, there is about 50-50% division between farmers in “crop and animal production” (including food and beverage) and those involved in “forestry and logging”; somehow about a third of the latter is in “wood processing”; thus, about 10 per cent of Latvian GDP is produced in agro-sector (compared to about 1-2 percent in western European states. Besides, officially, over 16 percent of Latvian population is employed in agro-sector, compared to 4,5 percent on the EU’s average; in some neighboring states the agro-percentage is even higher: e.g. about 22 percent in Lithuania and 18 percent in Poland. Two decades ago, there were about 273thousand persons working in this Latvian sector; about 70 percent of country’s farmers have been “consumers rather than sellers of their produce”.
About a decade ago, in 2010, according to Latvian official statistics, there have been about 83 thousand “holdings” with about 180 thousand people “working on farms”. Source: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Archive:Agricultural_census_in_Latvia
Universities’ linguistic experience: small states practice
The plurality of languages is reflected in the small states’ education policies and multilingualism seems to be a common experience: e.g. Luxembourg is a trilingual country; the national language is Luxembourgish, the legislative language is French and the official administrative and judicial languages are French, German and Luxembourgish. Moreover, the languages spoken by immigrants (such as Portuguese and Italian), as well as English, are gaining importance.
In the national Luxembourgish school system, German is the main language of instruction at primary school and in the lower grades of secondary education. French is being taught at primary school level and is progressively introduced as a language of instruction for most subjects in higher secondary education. English is being taught at secondary school, and other languages may also be learned.
The Ministry of Education, Children and Youth (French abbreviation – MENJE; Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de l’Enfance et de la Jeunesse) is responsible for the planning and management of school education. It organises the educational departments and defines curricula and guidelines encompassing all stages of education: non-formal and formal education in early childhood, preschool and school education at primary and secondary level, vocational education and training and adult education, as well as extra-curricular schooling provision, such as music education. The MENJE also coordinates government actions for young people and manages accreditations for curricula and validation of learning outcomes.
Thus, varied number of languages in education, mainly oriented towards country’s export-import directions, coped with restructured education policy goals aimed at tackling new challenges-oriented priorities, could represent additional strong “instruments” in national political economy as “silver bullets” for recovery and resilience.