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19th Jul 2018

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'Cultural shocks' on menu for future EU education strategy

  • The 'summit' of EU eduction ministers and experts on January 25 (Photo: Caterina Tani)

For the past three years, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, the European Union has attempted to put in place a shared idea of what a 'European education' means - promoting EU values and identity, fighting extremism, and tackling unemployment are chief attributes.

This process started with the so-called 'Paris declaration' in March 2015, soon after the attacks, when EU education ministers and Tibor Navracsics, commissioner for youth, education, culture and sport, agreed on promoting EU citizenship in a bid to contain violent or extremist tendencies across the continent.

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  • Students in Barcelona. More experiences abroad, seen by the summit as positive "cultural shocks", must be part of the EU education strategy. (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

This was taken a step further with the idea of a 'European education area', launched by member state education ministers in Gothenburg in 2017 and partially implemented by some measures from the commission in January – to be followed by a second package in May 2018.

On 25 January the commission held the first of a series of European education summits, as a way of taking stock of the commitments so far and to discuss future ideas.

During the summit, education ministers, secretaries of states and experts made clear that a very important topic is that of 'mobility' for students across the EU.

More experiences abroad, seen by the summit as positive "cultural shocks", must be part of the EU education strategy for coming years, participants said.

Meanwhile speakers also stressed the importance of the so-called basic skills, too often forgotten, and insisted it be put high on the EU agenda.

Erasmus+, the European programme that gather all the previous mobility programmes into one place, was praised and debated during the summit.

Portuguese education minister Tiago Brandao Rodrigues called Erasmus "equally important as treaties." Hungary's minister for human resources, Zoltan Balog, pointed out that appreciating cultural differences makes people "more tolerant."

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, a guest speaker at the summit, drew from her experiences orbiting the earth to explain that "cultural shocks should be a mandatory experience" so that people understand that they can 'recover' from it.

Participants said that to be more comprehensive, Erasmus should increase to include more people, such as school students and teachers.

Criticisms

Emphasis has so been mainly on "university students," complained S&D MEP Petra Kammerevert.

Some ministers stressed the importance of involving primary and secondary school teachers – who are currently under-represented in Erasmus+.

Since mobility and exchanges have good repercussions for language-learning and cultural openness, explained French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, teachers should go abroad on a "systematic basis."

Erasmus+ could then be used strategically to improve the "attractiveness" of teaching as a career, explained Swedish education minister Anna Ekstrom, by pointing out the opportunities for travel.

Concerning the financial costs - a thorny issue - Navracsis said he was ambitious to attract "political support" for increasing the budget.

However, there were no discussions at the 'summit' on budgetary issues, since the matter is strictly dependant on member states.

Another idea was to teach EU issues at school, which was debated and generally welcomed by ministers at the summit.

Portuguese minister Rodrigues said this was important since "some Europeans don't even know they are Europeans."

Navracsics said that the EU "recommends to teach the history of European integration" or how the EU works, because on European history itself "there could hardly be a common understanding."

In the EU, education is mainly a member states' competence. The EU can only propose non-binding recommendations, concerning mainly the exchange of good practices and transnational measures that member states can decide to what extent apply.

For changes in the budget for programmes like Erasmus+ a broader consensus is required.

"Some states are more reluctant while others are more reactive," Navracsics admitted.

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