Education: Europe looks forward

Interview with EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics


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On the occasion of the release of the 2018 Education and Training Monitor, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, sat down with Irene Kostaki to discuss what the future holds for European education.

The European Commission has presented a very interesting Education Monitor, a very versatile one among the Member States, where we can see many challenges emerging. While the Commission does not have the authority, how could you encourage more of the Member States to invest more and better in education? How is the Commission going to push the Member States to invest more and use national funding in a more effective way?

We can see other Member States spending less, others spending more, but with a low effectiveness. We have few instruments to push the Member States due to the principle of subsidiarity. What we can do is to encourage a Member State by giving them the feeling that if we lag behind in the future, just like we do now, then we will lose our best brains in Europe.

The investment in education is a very important policy from the point of view of the future of competitiveness, just because investment can increase or elevate the level of quality of the education systems. The higher the quality we have in education, the more competitive the society will be in the coming decades. So we have to convince the finance ministers and prime ministers to invest more in education.

The average investment rate in the EU is 4.7% and it is significantly lower than the rate of investment in other regions of the world, for example in the Asia – Pacific region or, also, in the United States. They have a higher rate of investment in education. That is the key. We have to convince the Member States to invest more and more smartly, because more money spent more efficiently is needed from policy decision-makers to identify the social goals of the education system. Is it the social inclusion? Is it competitiveness? Is it better teaching of skills? What are the policy goals of each area?

How do you assess the investment strategy instruments? If the European Commission had greater competence, how would that shape populism in the bloc?

This is what this year’s Education Training Monitor is about, and I think that citizenship education, education of European values. and the history of the European nations can support this development and tackle populism, because the level of knowledge of history and values make young citizens more responsible and probably less exposed to demagogy, populism, propaganda or fake news.

We support the introduction of critical thinking, teaching European values and International curricula. We adopted a recommendation this year about the education of European values and European integration, which encourages the Member States to put these elements of knowledge and skills in their national curricula. I am optimistic in reaching the Europe 2020 benchmarks, because all the Member States and the EU average is going up year by year, in early school and in tertiary education.

Those from poor socioeconomic and migrant backgrounds continue to have poor access to education, especially in the Member States that either host or are the entry points, for migrants coming into the EU. As the bloc still faces challenges with migration, having so many Member States not stepping up their efforts, while international organisations and NGOs such as the IOM take over from national governments like Greece. What are your thoughts?

Behind the poor educational performance lies the lack of knowledge of the language. That is why we emphasise the role of informal and formal education. Education by cultural or sport activities can help newly-arrived refugees in the social integration process. We can probably  improve their performance in schools as well by helping those NGOs and communities who implement these cultural and sports projects.

Have you been in contact with any of the entry Member States to provide guidance?

We do not provide guidance, but we fund projects. One of the winners of the Be Inclusive award, for social activities and sports, is a local NGO on the island of Lesvos, Greece. So, we fund a lot of projects both there and in Italy in social integration.

On the reforms applied by the EU member states and mentioned in the Education Monitor, how satisfied are you on the overall progress? Is the European Commission playing any role?

We do provide technical assistance to the Member States, via our technical assistance scheme. If a Member State asks the European Commission for expertise, or policy advise, we can help them in their respective educational reform.

I think in every Member State there is ongoing educational reform, so it is very difficult to measure the pace of the reforms on the European level.

What is important for us, is to identify the common goals and the best practices of the educational reforms. We can organise the exchange of ideas, we can help them finding partners and join their forces so we have soft instruments and soft policy devices to help them on their educational reform process.

Europe is aging. Very low-skilled participants have very little share in adult learning. Does this concern you? What are your efforts on this?

We are not only from the point of view of adult learning and lifelong learning, but also from the point of view of teachers.

There are Member States where the teachers’ society are an aging profession. In the upcoming 10 years, most of the teachers could be retired and this could be a blow to Europe’s educational systems. Demography is the key for the future, we have to underline the importance of lifelong learning, to earmark more funding for adult learning and lifelong learning, but we also have to do something to make teachers’ profession more effective for young people.

The problem of salaries is the most important, but it is not the only one. The lack of respect of the profession and the lack of respect as to how essential the profession is (for people) is also a serious issue.

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