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Document 52012AR2392

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Rethinking Education’

OJ C 139, 17.5.2013, p. 51–58 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/51


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Rethinking Education’

2013/C 139/10

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

supports the call to enhance efforts on developing transversal skills, particularly entrepreneurial skills;

considers it essential to build bridges between informal and non-formal learning and formal education. Too often curriculum development at second level is focused on acquiring information, rather than focusing on strengthening understanding, the learning of key skills and developing skills to deal with and navigate their way through this world;

in the present economic climate, considers it vital to recognise the importance of combining public and private investment in education and training. It is not just important but vital to have totally inclusive policies;

underlines that in relation to multilingualism and media literacy the specificity of the teaching needs and the rapidly changing curricula require investments in teaching instruments, broader partnerships and constant vigilance. ICT has unlocked enormous potential to improve learning outcomes;

welcomes the Commission's intention to continue to engage with the stakeholders to take forward the proposed strategy for ‘Rethinking Education’ in a concerted push for reform and reconfirms CoR interest in continuing to work with the European Commission and other partners in the field.

Rapporteur

Fiona O'LOUGHLIN (IE/ALDE), Member of Kildare County Council and Mid-East Regional Authority

Reference document

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes

COM(2012) 669 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General context

1.

welcomes the communication on Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes  (1) as a timely and valuable input to launching a renewed process of developing modern and effective education and training systems;

2.

considers, however, that the title ‘Rethinking Education’, deserving broader focus than the one stated in the communication, should not overlook the goals of active citizenship, personal development and well-being, though skills need to be improved with a view to employability and growth, and as a means of addressing challenges for the 21st century such as climate change, ageing or migration;

3.

stresses the fact that The Rethinking Education Communication package sets out the policy priorities for education and training systems for the next years, an essential part of which must be personal development when it comes to educating the young, pushing Member States for a renewed focus on:

—   QUALITY: The right skills to be delivered for the workplace

—   ACCESSIBILITY: What reforms will increase efficiency and inclusiveness of education and contribute to lifelong learning

—   FUNDING: With which resources and with whom should reforms be achieved relating to actions necessary to unlock the potential of education and training systems as drivers for growth and youth employment. They are in line with the Country Specific Recommendations made to Member States in the European Semester.

4.

acknowledges the Commission's efforts to improve and innovate the concepts of entrepreneurial education and vocational training as well as its call for further sustainable investment in education and training in order to respond to the challenges posed by the global economy and the shift in skills demand so to generate growth and ensure jobs;

5.

emphasises that Commission's communication does call for a fundamental shift in education, with more focus on ‘learning outcomes’ - the knowledge, skills and competences that students acquire. The Committee underlines the core motivational and substantive role of education, namely to create the conditions for continuous learning;

6.

considers that the length of time spent in education is a poor indicator of learning. Interesting and relevant educational content and learning methods and environments that are motivating and effective are much more important than the length of time spent in education. In addition, highlights that literacy and numeracy, including basic financial knowledge and digital literacy, still needs to be significantly improved and entrepreneurial skills and a sense of initiative need to be developed and strengthened. There is also a clear need for analysing and studying the distribution and number of hours of the curricula across the European education systems in order to optimise the time spent in education in terms of the pupil's real academic performance;

7.

agrees with the OECD Skills Strategy published on 21 May 2012 which considers that ‘skills have become the global currency of the 21st century’. The value of this ‘currency’ is determined by its scope for use and potential for development. Without proper investment in skills, people languish on the margins of society, technological progress does not translate into economic growth, and countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global society. But the value depreciates as the requirements of labour markets evolve and individuals lose the skills they do not use or fail to acquire new ones as part of a lifelong learning process;

8.

draws the attention that skills also do not automatically convert into jobs and growth. The OECD Strategy advocates for promoting equity in educational opportunities. While inequality is deepening in many areas of life, education and training can help to bridge this divide. Therefore considers that improving equity in skills development is both socially fair and economically efficient. Moreover, research has long confirmed that equity and quality in education are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary: the highest-performing education systems across OECD countries are those that combine quality with equity;

9.

emphasises the value of the system-wide perspective this opinion brings on education and training, and believe it important to highlight the importance of using policy evidence and good practices in shaping the proposed actions and reforms needed to render these systems more efficient, flexible and relevant. At the same time, highlights the broad mission of education and training, its role in ensuring social inclusion and the need for support at all levels – EU, national, local and regional;

Building skills for the 21st century

10.

supports the call to enhance efforts on developing transversal skills, particularly entrepreneurial skills. While striving to meet the high demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and research and innovation related skills, considers that the first step must be that foundation or basic skills are achieved by all, which includes digital literacy and basic financial knowledge. It is essential that learning entrepreneurial skills, many of which are closely related to emotional skills, be included in the curricula of all European education systems;

11.

stresses that learning at all levels should make much greater use of team, group and network learning, because only a small part of working life involves working alone and solving problems alone. In all activities, good team-building is always based on different peoples' knowledge, skills and personalities being compatible with and complementing one another;

12.

agrees that vocational education and training (VET) must be a valued and an integral part of the education system, particularly the dual system involving work based learning. Countries that have highly developed dual systems tend to perform better in terms of youth employment. Yet over half of Member States have less than 50 % of learners engaged in VET. Member States are therefore called on to develop excellence in VET, aligning delivery to match local labour market need, with strong involvement from business. Short cycle qualifications in areas of skills shortage, for example, can target skills mismatches and make a real impact on employment. The CoR emphasises that the specific circumstances and needs of a given country and/or region should be taken into account when developing high quality dual vocational education systems. The CoR also suggests launching pilot programmes to encourage education systems in states disposing of an underdeveloped dual education system to promote apprenticeships and better link vocational training to the work environment;

13.

welcomes the fact that the need for entrepreneurship education strategy at institutional levels was duly acknowledged by the Council of Education Ministers of 15 February and expects that it will soon translate into concrete action by the Member States;

14.

acknowledges the importance of developing and implementing entrepreneurship education systems across Europe. Considers that special focus should be placed on overcoming the disparities and substantial differences in their development, as shown by the 2008 survey on entrepreneurship in higher education and confirmed in the 2011 Budapest high level symposium;

15.

underlines that students' access to entrepreneurship education varies and is often determined at institution level; considers teachers and educators as important multipliers, but at the same time there is a need to address, to the extent possible in the school environment, the existing lack of understanding of what entrepreneurship education entails and how it can be taught; thus considers that Member States, working with the education institutions and the relevant bodies providing support to businesses, should include elements of entrepreneurship education in the curriculum content in basic education, vocational training and higher education;

16.

stresses the importance of the European framework of key competences, among which entrepreneurship education has been identified as very important; therefore suggests that a strong focus needs to be given to teacher training on entrepreneurship skills, but also informal learning between entrepreneurs and students should be promoted widely;

17.

calls on local and regional training providers and the education system to provide more tailored offers (formal and non-formal learning) for specific target audiences to be trained to become entrepreneurs or to develop their business. The good practices from the European Entrepreneurial Regions (EER) may be a valuable source of inspiration in this respect. The Committee of the Region's European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) award label is a good example to demonstrate that regions can develop, at low cost, future-thinking strategies with specific focus given to increasing enterprise skills especially among young people and, thus, contribute to promoting a new generation of entrepreneurs and jobs;

18.

while foreign language proficiency is one of the main determinants of learning and professional mobility, as well as of domestic and international employability, the communication concludes that the ‘outcome of foreign language learning in Europe is poor’: only four in ten pupils reach the ‘independent user’ level in the first foreign language, indicating an ability to have a simple conversation. Poor language skills thus constitute a major obstacle to free movement of workers and to the international competitiveness of EU enterprises. This is an issue particularly in areas where our European citizens live close to the border of a neighbouring country with a different language. Language learning is deemed to be much more effective at an early age and at the same time, the fostering of mutual understanding and developing a sense of European citizenship require contacts from an early age onwards;

19.

acknowledging the progress that has been achieved so far, considers that there is still unexploited potential for the education and training systems to better fulfil their role in promoting social and territorial cohesion and to contribute to Europe's prosperity, e.g. by tapping into the new possibilities offered by the ICT and Open Educational Resources (OER) as well as open innovation;

20.

in the present economic climate, considers it vital to recognise the importance of combining public and private investment in education and training. Moreover, underlines the need to safeguard against possible undesirable side-effects such as hindering access of socio-economically disadvantaged groups to education and training. It is not just important but vital to have totally inclusive policies;

21.

special attention is given to fighting youth unemployment, with four areas considered essential to addressing this issue and where Member States should step up efforts:

developing world-class general, continuing and vocational education to increase the academic knowledge required for lifelong learning and the quality of vocational skills;

promoting work based learning including quality traineeships, apprenticeships and dual learning models to help the transition from learning to work;

promoting partnerships between public and private institutions (to ensure appropriate curricula and skills provision);

and promoting the learning mobility of all young people so that learning can be accessible under equal conditions, regardless of where they live;

22.

welcomes, in this regard, the Youth Employment Package from December 2012, which includes the Youth Guarantee, and the European Council proposal for a Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), with a budget of EUR 6 billion (2014-2020) for regions with a youth unemployment level above 25 %; urges the European Commission and Member States to work with regions in ensuring that the YEI will be truly complementary and additional to existing regional and national actions to combat youth unemployment and that it will give tangible effect to the Youth Guarantee;

23.

therefore reiterates its call to Member States and, where relevant, regional governments, despite budgetary pressures, not to mortgage the future by making cuts in sectors (such as education and training) that are the foundation of tomorrow's growth (2). The European Semester could be used to ensure that cuts do not affect those sectors that are crucial to implementing the Europe 2020 strategy; insists that Member States currently under severe budgetary constraints should not be left behind.

Stimulating open and flexible learning

24.

considers it essential to build bridges between informal and non-formal learning and formal education. Too often curriculum development at second level is focused on acquiring information, rather than focusing on strengthening understanding, the learning of key skills and developing skills to deal with and navigate their way through this world; points out that Member States are responsible for drawing up and shaping specific curricula and for organising and funding education systems;

25.

calls for these key skills to be considered central when rethinking education and training: creative thinking, communicating, information processing, being personally effective and working with others; these key skills complement and facilitate the acquisition of the eight key competences for lifelong learning (3);

26.

underlines that teachers face rapidly changing demands, which require a new set of competences for teachers, teacher educators and education leaders. There is an urgent need to do more in the area of how to modernise teaching methods, ensure that teachers keep abreast of developments in their subject matter, and identify and promote excellence in teaching, while respecting the fact that developing a skills framework for teachers falls within the competence of the Member States;

27.

underlines the importance of developing the right basic skills by ensuring from the outset that teachers are committed to prioritising the acquisition of such skills and that the local community is involved in and actively supports social integration, for example of those being socially unprivileged or having a different cultural/educational background. At the same time, ensuring good liaison with the business community and, if necessary, mobilising psychopedagogical support is also needed;

28.

underlines that in relation to multilingualism and media literacy the specificity of the teaching needs and the rapidly changing curricula require investments in teaching instruments, broader partnerships and constant vigilance. ICT has unlocked enormous potential to improve learning outcomes. In some cases, various teaching and learning instruments, such as simulators and games, could make it possible to achieve significantly better learning outcomes than the use of lecture-based teaching and conventional illustrative material alone. Therefore calls for LRAs to establish liaisons and cooperation frameworks with the local business and university sectors, to engage the local community to understand local needs and increase the likelihood of employment of the trainees, and to arrange for teachers to undergo continuous education;

29.

acknowledges the effective contribution that the ongoing process of developing the European dimension in sport is bringing to EU's strategic goals, in particular the achievement of the goals defined in the Europe 2020 Strategy, and to opening up opportunities for sustainable job creation, especially for young people;

30.

highlights also the social, societal and educational function of sport as an important factor for making learning more effective, boosting mental capacity, enhancing the physical wellbeing of individuals, improving people's overall quality of life and fostering the harmonious integration of society through the promotion of the values of tolerance, fair play and cooperation;

31.

warns that while the evidence strongly supports the refocusing of education in favour of the development of transversal skills, the actual current practice is heading in the opposite direction. Considers that the use of standardised testing across the EU, as well as the development and introduction of teaching methods, learning simulators, ‘learning factories’ and equivalent is are major hurdles to overcome if the education systems are to be remodelled in favour of developing skills for employment. These need to be addressed. The development and acquisition of infrastructure often requires major investments, but the return on these investments is good if they are carried out in a structured way;

32.

welcomes the focus on learning outcomes; underscores the importance of balancing flexibility and autonomy with transferability and mutual recognition of qualifications across European regions and countries; is therefore interested in the swift implementation of a European Area for Skills and Qualifications, but points out that for example the European Qualifications Framework does not entail any right to recognition; in view of this, warns against confusion between instruments to achieve recognition on the one hand and transparency on the other; there is a risk of this happening in the Commission's efforts to secure problem-free recognition of skills and qualifications across borders;

33.

reiterates its firm belief that the EU needs not only to increase participation in education and training but also to attract a broader cross-section section of society, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups (4), and deploy the resources to meet this challenge;

Promoting a collaborative effort

34.

stresses from the outset the importance of a horizontally concerted and sustainable strategy in the implementation process that would also ensure the necessary synergies between all relevant Europe 2020 Strategy flagship initiatives, and in particular An agenda for new skills and jobs, Youth on the Move, Innovation Union, and Digital agenda for Europe;

35.

recalls that LRA have played a large role in achieving the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and considers important that National Reform Programmes are implemented in partnership between different tiers of government for Europe 2020 to deliver up to its promises; underlines that local and regional authorities are ideally placed to substantially contribute to achieving these goals by facilitating the realisation of a conducing environment, ensure the ultimate communication and dissemination of information via their networks and provide the necessary data for future strategic planning and development;

36.

stresses the importance of supportive framework conditions, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups; highlights the need for consistent, long-term actions, with involvement from local and regional authorities, to also reach out to schools in geographically and socially disadvantaged areas in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning outcomes, and to raise aspiration among the youth;

37.

local and regional authorities have key responsibilities for education and training policy and they play an important role in the fields of youth and employment policies. It is important in the area of transversal skills development to foster within the education system the attitudes and skills of young people to self-employment by developing personal qualities such as creativity, responsibility, risk-taking, problem solving and team work;

38.

supports a two-fold approach - priorities for Member States, and at the same time coordination and contributions at EU level, as proposed by the Commission in its communication; stresses at the same time the need for appropriate and proportionate actions and measures at national, regional and European level, in full respect of the subsidiarity principle at a formal, informal and non-formal level incorporating education, home and community with partnerships not only between schools and businesses, but also NGOs and other types of organisations in civil society;

39.

highlights the key role of LRAs in education and training and their value added as a player and an interface between the world of learning and the world of work and Insist on the need to bridge the gaps between regions, including those located in peripheral and outermost regions, and to enhance the activities of regional and peripheral education and training institutions; underlines that regional government, education and training institutions, other educational institutions and key stakeholders of the economy and society could usefully collaborate to agree on region-wide goals, policies and priorities concerning human capital development. Incentive structures should be strengthened to encourage education and training institutions and their staff to engage in activities benefiting regional and local development and entrepreneurship activities;

40.

recalls that it is at the sub-national level that the most accurate and timely information on regional labour markets can be sourced and where local and regional authorities can play a significant role in identifying skills mismatch providing appropriate re-training and vocational training programmes and incentivising investment in response to local demand;

41.

highlights that the likelihood of success improves if these cooperation frameworks are conceived as a virtuous circle where: the delivery of training does not ignore to the concrete needs of existing industry and/or commerce. The training institutions are collaborating closely with the private sector creating synergies and feedback mechanisms and the enhanced skills of the trained students/adults are re-invested in the regeneration of the territory. With regard to young pupils, the improvement of the level of entrepreneurship in the long term may be targeted through the development of an ‘entrepreneurship attitude’;

42.

believes that it is through long-term, collaborative creative experiences that young people will develop a huge range of key skills to become entrepreneurial

43.

reiterates support to the development of vocational training programmes which aim to create genuinely open pathways from vocational education to university education; supports measures to align VET policies with regional/local economic development strategies (namely for smart specialisation, young entrepreneurship) and to develop partnerships between education, business and research;

44.

notes that in some Member States that vocational education can be stigmatised and seen as inferior to a University Education. This needs to be addressed in any future actions. The Personalised Learning System developed in the 1990s in Poitiers is another step in the right direction – people were treated as individuals and a learning plan developed for them according to their specific needs. In addition, development of learning plans for communities and teams has become increasingly important; underlines that labour market relevance of higher education, but also VET should be strengthened and encourages the involvement of employers and labour market institutions in the design and delivery of programmes. In short, trainees must be able to see the advantages of vocational education over other forms of education, such as opportunities for ongoing skills development, so that pursuing vocational education does not mean hindering or spoiling one's chances of making progress;

45.

calls for these efforts to be made in conjunction with local and regional authorities because it is at this level that trends in skills and jobs are often first identified; underlines the CoR's commitment to contribute to the alignment of VET policies with regional/local economic development strategies namely for smart specialisation;

46.

underscores that Europe's full potential for developing IT support platform and ICT services in the public and private sectors should be fully exploited, including in education and training. EU-backed public-private partnerships involving local and regional authorities and ICT-development SMEs in the area of public ICT services can serve as an excellent cornerstone for building up local skills and knowledge across the EU. Highlights the potential for further development in this field by establishing regional centres for ITCs, virtual campus projects or multimedia training centres;

47.

training for skills development is a laudable goal. But we must be careful not to see investment in education solely to enhance economic productivity in Europe. The unfortunate outcome of this approach can be a weakening of the mental health of young people who become to be seen as economic proto units and who are defined only by their ability to contribute economically to society. In view of this, equal investment in young people's creativity, life-skills, transversal skills, cultural education and kinaesthetic skills is especially worthy of support. The public and private benefits of education go beyond the purely economic. For instance, higher levels of education are associated with a longer life expectancy, increased voting rates, and more supportive attitudes towards equal rights for ethnic minorities;

48.

in line with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, concrete measures or actions proposed or adopted at EU level should focus on those areas where there is a strong European dimension, or where trans-national aspects are involved that cannot be properly regulated by Member States and/or regional and local authorities acting alone;

49.

underlines the need for smart, efficient and innovative funding and spending in education and training so to better respond to future skill-intensive jobs/expansion and replacement demand, to support growth and youth employment, insisting that policy development and programme implementation should utilise existing local democratically elected bodies; considers that using local knowledge and democratic accountability improves the governance mechanisms for partnerships between university, business and local government. This will enable local prioritisation and accountability linked directly to the principle of subsidiarity;

50.

highlights the benefits of creating strong local partnerships by adopting a systemic view and embed different funding opportunities into a single local or regional strategy. This strategy could take into consideration different policy options for implementation at local and regional level:

developing intelligence for strategic intervention in order to identify and permanently monitor the adaptability, needs and quality of the local labour force (e.g. skills' observatory)

cooperating with the business sector to devise vocational training adapted to the market needs and to tailor training to the commercial environment

cooperating with local (educational and training) agents, e.g. to incentivise local educational and training centres and local labour agencies for the introduction of new education techniques in e-learning, the enhancement of media literacy and multilingualism, and the provision of equal employment opportunities for the socially deprived population

cooperating with the business and education sectors (from primary education up to and including higher education) in order to ensure a continuous language learning process. The choice of languages can also be based on the needs identified by local and regional authorities in consultation with the business world

seeking support beyond the region by joining forces with regions facing similar problems and using EU funding.

Any such strategy should be firmly anchored in three overarching goals related to education and training: striving for excellence, ensuring universal access and limiting the number of drop-outs;

51.

calls for systematic and sustained involvement of local and regional actors, including education and training institutions, in the smart specialisation platform, and in the development of integrated local/regional development plans;

52.

underlines the crucial importance of local and regional activities and at the same time looks forward to seeing more specific proposals from the European Commission on how to effectively bridge the gap between the potential of ICTs and Open Education Resources (OER) on the one hand, and existing education and training systems on the other; acknowledges that open education resources can beneficially complement conventional education resources; it still has to be explained how ongoing comprehensive quality assurance of open education resource content can usefully be guaranteed in such a way that the resources offer teachers added value;

53.

the CoR considers that greater importance should be accorded to the ‘distinct role that local and regional authorities play as employers, service providers, and regulators, in the promotion of growth and cohesion, and in coordinating strategic partnerships between educational institutions, enterprise agencies and enterprises in their respective regions’. In fact, LRAs are increasingly intervening in educational policies but there are no one-size-fits-all interventions that can guarantee improving educational performance. More specifically, although there is currently enough knowledge to guide decisions (quality of teachers, institutional independence, inclusiveness and resources being the most important ones), the options for LRAs depend on their socio-economic characteristics, their autonomy vis-à-vis the national system, and their past performance (and reputation) in education and training;

54.

recalls that it is the local and regional authorities that have the direct contact with and the best understanding of the realities on the ground, and are well placed to contribute to the policy development and programme implementation in full respect of the subsidiarity principle;

55.

welcomes Commission's intention to continue to engage with the stakeholders to take forward the proposed strategy for ‘Rethinking Education’ in a concerted push for reform and reconfirms CoR interest in continuing to work with the European Commission and other partners in the field. This cooperation should cover all areas where LRAs have specific responsibilities, including, but not limited to aligning VET policies with regional/local economic development strategies which is already mentioned in the communication.

Brussels, 12 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  COM(2012) 669 final.

(2)  CdR 290/2011.

(3)  Communication in the mother tongue; communication in foreign languages; mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology; digital competence; learning to learn; social and civic competences; sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; cultural awareness and expression.

(4)  CdR290/2011.


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