How teachers turn Europe into a leading hub for innovation and research

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Marc Durando [European Schoolnet]

We need motivated, properly trained, well-equipped science teachers to prepare and inspire the next generation of researchers in Europe, writes Marc Durando.

Marc Durando is the executive director of European Schoolnet, a network of 31 European Ministries of Education.

To make students more motivated towards science subjects in schools and to pursue related careers later in life, educators must have access to high quality training opportunities, follow-up and teaching resources throughout their careers.

By 2020, the European Union wants to invest 3% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in research and development. An estimated one million scientists and researchers are needed in order to make Europeans world-class performers in the field. High quality trans- and multi-disciplinary education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects drives this innovative economy forward and builds a sustainable knowledge-driven society, with talented, responsible, entrepreneurial and creative young people.

The European Commission published a report from the Expert Group on Science Education in June 2015. This declares that inquiry-based and accessible science education has to be a key component of people’s learning continuum, covering all stages from pre-school to an active engaged citizenship. Efforts need to be made to improve the quality of teaching, from induction through pre-service preparation to in-service professional development of teachers. In this sense, collaboration among educators, enterprises and civil society is necessary and vital.

Open science communities increase public awareness and curiosity in STEM subjects that impact our lives every day. They support methods in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), which improve public understanding of scientific findings through extensive cooperation with societal actors in STEM education. Teachers and educators are at the core of this open science community, which is not only European but truly international.

According to the benchmark set by the European Union, the percentage of 15 year-olds with insufficient abilities in mathematics and science should be reduced to 15% by 2020. Teachers must be given all the support they need in order to reach this common goal for Europe and improve pupils’ performances in mathematics and science.

Positive experiences and testimonies show us that communities which invite science educators to meet and share best practices and knowledge are essential for their lifelong learning processes. Those communities introduce teachers to new ideas and approaches to active pedagogy that may help them raise pupils’ interest in STEM subjects at an early age. Hence, it is essential that schools, teacher education institutions, universities and ministries (inspectors, advisors) support and stimulate their teachers’ innovation and experimentation in the classroom.

Curricula, pedagogy and assessment methods in STEM education are changing and reforms are taking place to support them. It is essential to offer more long-term support to communities of teachers, in particular through formal and informal peer-based learning opportunities built on partnerships also involving companies and civil society. A positive transformation is best achieved when networking, visibility and recognition are triggered and encouraged. Formal and informal communities of peer-learning empower teachers and their schools and support a wide implementation of successful pilot initiatives in STEM education across Europe.

Only by making the necessary investments in STEM education and giving teachers the support that they need can we turn Europe into the leading hub for innovation and research we want it to be by the year 2020. Teachers and other educators must be seen as crucial components of Europe’s policies for science, research and innovation for the future.

On 19 and 20 November 2015, 260 experts of STEM education, representatives of national ministries of education and teachers will meet in Barcelona to discuss the current state of affairs in Europe. This event will help us to identify Europe’s main challenges in the field and get an overview of the practices and policies that enable us to reach this ambitious goal for Europe by 2020.

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