BY DANIEL DEBONO
EU Affairs Manager, Head of Brussels Operations, Malta Business Bureau
Following up from the social summit held last November in Gothenburg, the European Commission has published a new education package comprising of three proposals that seek to improve European citizens’ skills, including digital skills, as well as to foster a greater understanding of the foundational values of the EU, including democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
The first of these proposals is a Council Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning. The goal is to enhance peoples’ skill sets, with particular emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation. As we have shifted towards more knowledge-based economies, opportunities and jobs in the innovation and technology sectors have increased considerably. The labour market is also demanding more from its workers. Consequently, the Commission has placed special importance on competences relating to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), with a view to increase the number of youths taking up these subjects.
The second proposal, a Digital Education Action Plan, aims to ensure that schools and other educational institutions are equipped with the necessary capabilities in this digital age. For instance, the first priority targets a greater use of digital technology in education and learning. The Commission will push for the introduction of high-speed broadband internet in these institutions. A Self-Assessment tool for digitally-capable schools (SELFIE) will help educational institutions identify their current level of competencies as well as any shortcomings that should be addressed. This proposal is not concerned exclusively with the uptake of digital technologies. It likewise stresses the importance of fostering greater awareness and understanding of the risks and threats that come with them. The Commission will also endeavour to improve current collection and analysis of data in order to ensure that the key issues in education are identified and are subsequently addressed in future policy.
Finally, a Council Recommendation on common values, inclusive education and the European dimension of teaching aims to combat social exclusion and the recent trends towards populism and xenophobia. This will be achieved firstly by enriching knowledge on what the EU is, how it works and why it exists, as well as increasing awareness on the EU’s cultural diversity. The Erasmus+ and the e-Twinning network will help towards the latter goal. A more inclusive approach to education will mean that all children will have access to quality education, taking into consideration the particular needs of certain pupils. The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education will be key in this regard. This proposal also promises to better equip teachers to handle the ever-diverse classroom environments and how to deal with controversial topics which will inevitably arise.
The latest Commission initiative is a positive step forward. Considering its limited competence in the field of education, by outlining objectives based on current market and societal realities, promoting them with member states for implementation, and gathering reliable data efficiently, the Commission will provide European citizens with equal opportunities for access and quality education that is relevant for the European labour market that consistently requires highly-skilled workers to compete in a digital business environment. This is also appropriate to address challenges of an evolving society.
However, the principle of subsidiarity in the field of education remains a key principle. In this respect, the education package provides a framework that inspires to pull all member states in the same direction, while they continue to choose the means of how to meet the objectives according to their own systems and traditions. For these reasons, the recommendations should be valued and supported.