Education and training have become the main drivers for both the workforce and national growth; only these to priority spheres in national strategy can actually help to improve innovation and competitiveness, employability and productivity. In a broader sense, education is a key pre-condition for an adequate national response to contemporary challenges and achieving sustainable development. Besides, quality- and skills-education fulfills a vital socio-economic function: it enables people to have healthier and prosperous lifestyles, reduce all forms of poverty and inequalities, achieve gender equality and empower people’s consciousness.
Education and training have been key objectives of European social market economy’s policy for many years: thus, various EU institutions’ efforts have been aimed at assisting states’ cooperation in strategic education and training directions while taking into consideration the whole spectrum of education and training systems in a lifelong learning perspective, covering all levels, from basic education to tertiary and adult education, to acquisition of basic and digital skills.
The educational component plays a very important role in the EU’s socio-economic and political integration; however, it underlines the need of constant transformative measures and reforms: both on a way to the European “education union”, and to adequately withstand numerous challenges. It has been apparent recently that several EU states lacked adequate resources and political will to implement necessary actions in reforming outdated education policy directions. Thus, national governance has to apprehend the need of quality reform and transformations in the national education/training efforts as a priority in socio-economic decision-making.
Challenges in education
During last decade, most countries worldwide and in Europe, in particular, have been supporting higher education trends towards strengthening skills acquisition in complex spheres of sustainable development in line with the global sustainability goals (UN SDGs adopted at the end of 2015), especially, the goal on quality education, SDG-4. Many higher education and training reforms have been aimed at developing skills that are required to make effective progress towards such priorities as sustainability, improving energy and transport efficiency, protecting human and marine environment, ensuring food quality and security, etc.
In this regard, cross-country cooperation was regarded important; thus, already in 2014, all European countries were granted access to the European Erasmus+ program, which called for regional cooperation with the aim of contributing to promoting optimal and inclusive growth. Erasmus+ supports the modernisation of education curricula, helps to improve the quality of teaching and education; it also supports transparent education governance and cooperation in the public and private sectors.
The EU institutions are keeping track of measures that generally formulate national priorities, including the education policies in better assisting national governance in improving solutions to overcome the post-pandemic impacts and addressing recovery and resilience issues.
On a European scale, this intra-regional dynamic is already embodied in the European Universities Initiative, EUI. As a “mini-consortium program”, the initiative is based on a triple “training-research-innovation” education model by which the European universities are destined to become highly competitive institutions in numerous value-added areas, such as health and well-being, digital and environmental technology, transport, energy and social inclusion.
Global challenges are already transforming education spheres in all EU states; hence, changes in education policies are becoming vital for national recovery and resilience plans, as well as for strong and sustainable development. Hence, transformations in education are becoming vital for national recovery and resilience plans, as well as for strong and sustainable development. Reformed education policies are indispensible parts of the EU’ socio-political guidance and the member states constantly feel the EU institutions’ assistance in addressing main national problems, like structural reforms, accelerated green and digital transitions, climate change, increased remote work and online education. Solutions to these problems would provide for a vital source of information and assistance in education policy’s directions.
Thus, the green transition, while focusing on progress towards sustainable economies (in line with the Paris Agreement and the UN-2030 Agenda), provides for strong orientation in education policies towards preparing adequate workforce and specialists in national economies, in businesses and public/private management. On the other hand, the recovery and resilience’s dimension focuses on new factors in political economies that can help EU states in their efforts to withstand the crisis and prepare for future challenges.
Strong inter-dependencies among social, economic, political and environmental issues influence greatly education policy’s outcomes and effects. In line with the pandemic which rapidly cascaded from a public health crisis to a global economic and social crisis, impacting people’s lives with both short- and potentially long-term consequences, so are the consequences of inefficient education policies for national recovery and resilience.
Other effects of the pandemic are of examples: they have been aggravated by pre-existing well-being challenges, ranging from air pollution households from job and financial insecurity to obesity and smoking, etc. The pandemic has also brought increased attention to how threats to biodiversity, such as habitat destruction and wildlife exploitation, can increase the risk of infectious diseases being transferred across populations and countries. Hence, COVID-pandemic has been described as a wake-up call for governance concerning other crises, including climate change and lack of adequate education structures.
Governments’ attention in European states (as well as around the world) has now turned to stimulus measures to support the recovery; at the same time, governments face several interconnected economic, social and environmental challenges that predate the health crisis, implying that a return to business as usual would miss an opportunities to tackle existing and perspective risks. Well-designed recovery packages, coped with long-term education and training policies, could both repair the damage caused by pandemic and setting countries on a stronger, greener, more inclusive and more resilient path, ready to tackle the upcoming crises of the future.
Well-being concept in education strategies
Although at the core of all national strategies are recovery and resilience measures, still peoples’ well-being occupy a strategic direction in national governance. In the latter, reforming education policies can provide strong support for perspective socio-economic growth: some guidance is already evident, and among most important the following shall be mentioned:
= Refocusing national political economies as the main direction in governance. Firmly focusing on the most vital aspects in social and individual well-being, national decision-making shall take into consideration modern challenges and the skills needed for a prosperous life through the creation of the “basic components” for peoples’ present and future well-being. Hence, the governance shall find the best opportunities and dimensions of perspective actions.
= Aligning the whole system of governance in a way that answers to better opportunities in collaborative actions towards societal priorities, by shifting the focus from narrower outputs of individual departments towards shared outcome-based objectives.
= Strengthening the connections between government, the private sector and civil society based on a joint understanding of modern challenges, priorities and education policy’s role for improving peoples’ well-being.
= Reforming national institutional mechanisms to support a well-being approach in educational policy. More coherent and effective approaches to sustainability, to raising societal well-being require new ways of working “inside-governance” and between the public, private sectors and business community.
Recently, a growing number of governments have been seen using a “well-being framework” in the governance political economy, in formulating national priorities and budgeting focusing on strengthening policy coherence between socio-economic sectors and levels of government. A well-being approach can also help creating stronger education policies by connecting public, private and corporate communities in creating instruments and means adequately reflecting peoples’ well-being.
Balancing pros and cons…
On one side, it is theoretically possible to “visualize” the outcomes of education revolution; as in any revolution these outcomes are both positive and negative being often mixed up. However, the actual aspects of policy reforms’ evolutionary processes are much more difficult to implement: hence, controversial dialectics of good intentions and devastating results.
Still several factors can be mentioned: a) inability to predict future with accuracy (the digital transformation is just one example); b) constant changes in all spheres of social-economic development that often tarnish the process of formulating constant priorities; c) dramatically evolving processes of teacher-student “connections”: from pure transition of knowledge to analytical thinking (the latter ultimately requires changing in teaching methods from a “liberal education” to Socrates’ model); d) immanent teachers’ ability to absorb “the wave of change” in teaching process (including constantly new modules and syllabus) while including these challenges into lectures and seminars; e) the necessity to re-skill professional knowledge every decade, or so on and so forth…
On another side, it is becoming often too complicated to tackle mentioned “educational challenges” in a reformed policy: e.g. socio-economic resilience cannot be taught in universities. Presently, it is very easy to subdue to drives of technological and digital transformations (also called revolutions); but there is a danger that technology could control personal and social behavior. So, when algorithms and programs are becoming “new normal” in education process, the quality teaching shall underline and train the student’s ability to a “personal choice” and freedom, even at a time of constant changes and transformations…