As the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) ends and 49 proposals were presented to EU leadership, amongst them is the idea that Brussels gets involved in education policy, at a minimum in civics education.
CoFoE is the EU’s deliberative democracy experiment that brought together citizens from across the bloc to identify, discuss and propose recommendations on how they want the EU to be run in the coming years.
“Shared competences in the field of education should be introduced, at a minimum in the field of citizenship education, and the exercise of that competence by the EU shall not result in member states being prevented from exercising theirs”, reads the first measure in the set of proposals put forward by EU citizens in the field of education policy.
This idea was one of the most controversial suggestions on the topic, according to Silja Markkula, president of the European Youth Forum.
Markkula, who chaired the education, culture, youth and sport working group of the conference, said in regards to education, “the biggest discussions that we had were … [focused on] whether education should be harmonised across the European Union, or it should be more just a voluntary cooperation between member states or whether education should be an EU competence.”
The compromise reached between stakeholders now states that citizenship education is an area where Brussels should have a say.
“It kind of makes sense that when it comes to the European Union and its functioning, everyone in the Union should be taught the same,” Markkula told EURACTIV.
However, as Laure Coudret-Laut, Director of Erasmus+ France, points out, even though EU countries remain in the driver’s seat in education, in practice, many European decisions are binding on member states.
For example, Erasmus+, the bloc’s study and work abroad program, was adopted in the form of a regulation immediately binding on EU member state authorities.
Making decisions supra-nationally “would be justified in support of the great principles of Europe”, she said. In her view, this includes European diplomas to support the free movement of people, educational investment levels that guarantee the future competences of Europeans, media education to ensure the free movement of ideas, and the ability to defend democratic values.
In these areas, it would be appropriate “to suggest this shared competence in connection with the Treaties,” Coudret-Laut concluded.
Erasmus+ France also participated in the CoFoE by organising a forum with 70 participants from across the country, who came up with 35 proposals to be presented during the mid-May meet up of Erasmus national agency directors in Arcachon.
More of what works
Many CoFoE proposals were directed towards existing policies and just asked to broaden and widen access to successful EU programs.
EU citizens want to “promote European exchanges in different fields, … made accessible across member states for all, regardless of their age, level of education, background and financial means”, the final set of proposals reads.
This chimes well with the stated goal of the newest, 2021-2027 iteration of Erasmus, which “seeks to increase the qualitative impact of its actions and to ensure equal opportunities” by reaching out “to people of different ages and from diverse cultural, social and economic backgrounds.”
Asked how the proposals put forward by citizens are different from what the EU is already doing, Markkula said the recommendations are “often highlighting things that you want more of.”
Giving the example Erasmus+, which she described as “the best EU program at large”, she said, “this is something that works, therefore, let’s have more of it, and let’s expand and see where else this could work.”
By teaching, we learn
Citizens also asked lawmakers to pay special attention to the professional mobility of teachers. This was specifically mentioned across several proposals and different sections of the final conference document.
Markkula said the focus on pedagogues was explained by hopes for positive spillover effects for the entire learning architecture.
“The more we support teachers, the better education also becomes. So giving teachers opportunities is also going to have a trickle-down effect of supporting those who they are teaching.”
However, teachers’ are already one of the big beneficiaries of Erasmus as they can participate in observing practices abroad, teach, or take classes in exchanges typically lasting five to seven days.
The French branch of the program alone has financed 14,000 mobilities for teachers in 2021, making up a fifth of all successful applications.
One of these teachers is Gaël Pelletier, who has been coordinating Erasmus+ projects since 2018, allowing him to take his students on trips to Italy, Romania, Sweden, Greece, Belgium and Finland.
He said the exchange made him more comfortable juggling different languages and observing “with a dreadful acuteness the backwardness of the French educational system on many points, compared to our European neighbours”.
“Personally, I have been able to transpose into my practice the greater autonomy granted to students in many countries. I have discovered new and stimulating ways to use digital technology in a playful way,” he told EURACTIV.
His view that education is not even a shared competence between the EU and its members “is a major fault”.
“Without awareness of a common past, without shared educational references on a daily basis, how can we consider a collective future?” he asked.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]