The EU's 'Europe 2020' target of reducing the number of early school leavers is the only one of the strategy's goals that is not causing a headache for Slovakia, which is generally wary of the Lisbon Strategy's successor. EurActiv.sk reports.
In its July programme, the new Slovak centre-right government describes Europe 2020 as ''a common tool for carrying ahead with the reforms in the EU, necessary from the short-term perspective to overcome the crisis and from the mid-term perspective to reach the sustainable and sound economic growth of the EU as well as the strengthening of the Union in the process of globalisation''.
However, the document outlining the new government's priorities does not mention the strategy in the field of education, nor the specific education targets – reducing the share of early school leavers and ensuring that more youngsters have a diploma.
The previous government of Robert Fico did not hide the fact that it harboured reservations about the strategy – especially the R&D and environmental targets and the measurement indicators to be used.
Within the EU, Slovakia lies in third place – after Poland and the Czech Republic – when it comes to the number of early school leavers, with a current rate of just 6% of 18-24 year olds. This is significantly below the EU average of 14% and is also below the EU's 2020 goal of 10%.
''For Slovakia the easiest target appears to be perhaps the percentage of the early school leavers, where we have good results. We happen to be the third best in the EU with a level of 6%,'' said former Vice-Prime Minister for European Affairs Dušan ?aplovi? in an interview with EurActiv.sk.
He also argued that the targets should be less rigorously defined.
The fact is that the new Slovak government does not perceive the target to be an area of primary importance in the field of education.
''The Slovak Republic has very good results in this indicator, since graduation from secondary school has significant social value and the acquisition of at least the vocational certificate is a prerequisite of being able to get a job,'' the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport told EurActiv.sk.
The period of compulsory education in Slovakia is 10 years, generally from six to 16 years of age. Slovakia actually records its dropout rate at the end of the second primary education stage (9th year; 15 years old) rather than after the compulsory 10 years. This is because compulsory and basic education do not overlap.
''The target of the Slovak Republic here is to keep the current level of this indicator, which is currently at the level of 6%, until the year 2020,'' stated the Ministry.
What helps to keep the figures down is the legislative threat of withholding child benefits for parents if a child has more than 15 hours of unauthorised absence from school per month. Parents can be taken to court for negligence and in the worst case, deprived of custody.
A survey by the Centre for Education Policy shows that the children who are most likely to drop out of school come from families with four or more children and net incomes below €500 per month. Roma children are 30 times more likely to drop out.
A related problem is that Roma children are often inappropriately placed in special schools, as many do not pass the education entrance test (the so-called 'school maturity tests') in the Slovak language. The new government has pledged to introduce these tests in the Roma language, so that such children are not excluded from mainstream education from the outset.
The EU's target of increasing the proportion of young people between 30 and 34 who have competed tertiary education to 40% by 2020 is, however, a different story. According to OECD statistics, the proportion of 25-34 year-olds in Slovakia with a university degree is 13%. Among older people – those up to the age of 64 – it is slightly higher, at around 17%.
The Ministry of Education claims that ''in the Slovak Republic this indicator saw a positive development, supported by the changing structure of the economy towards a skilled workforce and growing interest in university education. The target here is to reach the level of 30% by 2020, which is in line with the expectation of the European Commission''.
Higher education enrolment rates have significantly improved in the last few years, to around 30% of secondary level graduates. In theory, this could make the 40% diploma target for the younger generation attainable.
Reducing the share of early school leavers and ensuring that more youngsters have a degree or diploma is one of the five priorities of a draft ten-year economic plan unveiled by the European Commission in March, called 'Europe 2020' (EurActiv 03/03/10).
The strategy defines five headline targets at EU level, which member states will be asked to translate into national goals reflecting their differing starting points:
- Raising the employment rate of the population aged 20-64 from the current 69% to 75%.
- Raising the investment in R&D to 3% of the EU's GDP.
- Meeting the EU's '20/20/20' objectives on greenhouse gas emission reduction and renewable energies.
- Reducing the share of early school leavers from the current 15% to under 10% and making sure that at least 40% of youngsters have a degree or diploma.
- Reducing the number of Europeans living below the poverty line by 25%, lifting 20 million out of poverty from the current 80 million.
In a series of articles, the EurActiv network will present the state of play in individual EU countries on each of the targets. This series looks at how member states react to education targets.
The EurActiv network already found that Eastern countries are doubtful about the poverty reduction target and face an uphill battle to attain the climate goals (EurActiv 06/05/10; EurActiv 16/07/10), while most Eastern European member states will adopt R&D targets below the EU-wide goal of 3% of GDP (EurActiv 04/06/10).
- European Commission:Europe 2020 targets(3 Mar. 2010)
- European Commission:Europe 2020: Commission proposes new economic strategy in Europe(3 Mar. 2010)
- European Council:Conclusions(26 Mar. 2010)