While 3 out of 4 European teachers do not feel encouraged to bring innovation into the classroom and 4 out of 10 companies across the EU have difficulty finding staff with the skills they need, students step up and ask for a change in education.

Wearing white masks and holding signs, students who have had an entrepreneurial experience are asking for a change in education. Students are not alone in front of the European Parliament. Caroline Jenner, CEO of Junior Achievement (JA) Europe talked to New Europe about the “Switch on Europe” initiative.

New Europe / Alexandros Michailidis
Caroline Jenner, JA Europe CEO in Brussels, Belgium. 25 April 2017. New Europe / Alexandros Michailidis

Being part of the European Entrepreneurship Education NETwork (EE-HUB), a focal point for entrepreneurship education in the EU, Jenner, as JA Europe’s regional director, has outlined the importance of actions towards improving entrepreneurship education in schools across the bloc.

“EE-Hub is an initiative promoting entrepreneurship for young people, that’s why we are here today,” said Jenner. “We are bringing a lot of people here today to draw attention to the importance of entrepreneurship education. This is an important strategy to help young people develop right skills for the future and inspire them to consider starting businesses and be innovative in the long run.”

“It is important for businesses to be involved, as well as teachers,” adds Jenner, as JA Europe’s work focuses on bringing businesses inside classrooms.

Jenner admits that some progress has been made, as within the last 10-15 years both the European Commission and the European Parliament have been pushing towards that direction, but “we need to go even further, we need to go deeper.”

For the time being it is only 1/10 people that have access to entrepreneurship education within the EU as Jenner explains. “We see that there is a need at both sides, the penetration rate needs to improve.”

But is the European Commission willing to step up on things? Jenner says that there is great interest from many sectors of the EU executive. “There is huge support from many DAs, from Education, DG Grow and DG Employment, they all have this as a top priority. The question is how we will mobilize all forces, the stakeholders, as the problem has proven to be quite complex.”

Education may be a member state issue when it comes to legislation, but it also involves the business community outside and policy makers at all levels. “The capacity is outside,” explains Jenner, as the issue has already been discussed at a ministerial level.

“At the European Council, it is about 1/3 of the ministers that table the issue as a top priority,” adds Jenner, naming Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Baltic member states. “There needs to be consulted support from all sides to make this successful. That is our initial. Getting support from the top and letting it get all the way down to school level, making it happen for teachers.”

The needs identified by JA Europe through this process are mainly of improving teachers’ training and curriculum, along with the need for businesses to engage in this kind of education, according to Jenner.

MEPs on the need for change in education

A young MEP of the European People’s Party (EPP) was there to support the “Switch on Europe” initiative. “We need to change the mindsets of young people,” said Eva Paunova Maydell on Tuesday, as a group of young students was peacefully demonstrating in front of the European Parliament in Brussels.

EPP MEP Eva Maydell in Brussels, Belgium, 25 April 2017. New Europe / Alexandros Michailidis.
EPP MEP Eva Maydell in Brussels, Belgium, 25 April 2017. New Europe / Alexandros Michailidis.

“Entrepreneurship is the key to the way we want to form Europe, a Europe of the youth, of bright minds, of blooming technologies and startups that actually initiate here and become global,” said Maydell.

Several MEPs are active with reports on the issue, while a resolution had passed recently by the European Parliament. “It is not only legislation, but also activism. Legislation takes years to be adopted and another couple of years to be implements,” concluded Maydell.