On 30 September 2020, the EU Commission published its Communication on achieving a European Education Area by 2025. Even though the Chamber of Labour in principle welcomes the Communication, there are still some points of criticism, which ought to be taken into account.
The Communication on achieving a European Education Area by 2025 is the follow-up project of the European policy cooperation (ET2020 framework). Apart from new initiatives, the Communication from the Commission provides for comprehensive investments and greater cooperation between individual Member States. This shall improve quality und inclusiveness of the educational offer as well as making national education systems digital and more sustainable. In addition, the educational and vocational training offer within the EU shall be made optimal usable across borders.
The six dimensions
The European Education Area shall comprise six dimensions, such as quality, inclusion and gender equality as well as green and digital transition. The aim is to review for example how teaching quality, teachers’ pedagogical competences and school success may be improved and how inclusion and gender equality may be better enshrined in the (higher) education sector. In order to achieve these targets, the Commission names specific instruments and a set of targets, for example continuing the cooperation in already existing working groups or intensifying the cooperation with civil society and research.
Chamber of Labour sees need for improvement
The AK’s general positive assessment of the Communication is above all based on the hope that some of its points of criticism will still be heard. Even though the Communication pursues an ambitious approach throughout, it remains - due to the lack of differentiation of related education policy initiatives of the Commission - unclear, which political weight it will actually carry. Apart from that, the Communication strongly focusses on initial vocational training, whilst at the same time ignoring the conveyance of social competences and the social and democratic responsibility of education.
More emphasis should be put on the right to general and vocational training as well as lifelong learning, which should be defined and enshrined as the main target of the European Education Area. A touchstone for national autonomy in education matters might be the introduction of a steering board (presumably at education minister level), the creation of a European Degree as well as a binding legislative framework and a more joint curriculum development and common courses.
From the AK’s point of view, it has to be avoided that the certification of vocational training courses, training programmes or courses, which due to short duration or limited contents are not regarded as an independent qualification, will result in the modularisation of initial vocational training. Hence, the introduction of so-called European “micro-credentials” without quality assurance approaches for validation and recognition must also be rejected. The latter should be – if at all – only be introduced if the responsible authorities are able to ensure transparency and quality.
In view of the digital transition, it is vital to address the so-called Digital Divide, hence the fact that obtaining digital competences strongly depends on the socio-economic background. Less privileged children and young people are as much disadvantaged as are schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils.
Social partners and funding
It must be strongly criticised that the Communication does not even mentioned the social partners. The Chamber of Labour demands the explicit establishment of the integration of the social partners both at European level and in respect of reforms at national level. The Communication is also lacking a coherent concept as to how the European Education Area shall be funded. The original proposal that Member States invest 5 % of their Gross Domestic Product in their national education systems, has obviously been scrapped.