In the afternoon of the 19th March 2014 the EP Youth Intergroup in cooperation with the European Youth Forum (YFJ) organized a roundtable on quality education in the European Parliament in Brussels. Since the European Coordination JEC-MIEC had been working on the topics of Integral Education and Non-Formal Education for several years now, European Coordinator Maximilian Niessen took the opportunity to attend this meeting.
The roundtable was organized as a panel debate in which the European Youth Forum (represented by Marcio Barcelos), CONCORD Europe (represented by Maarten Coertjens) and the European Civil Society Platform on Lifelong Learning (represented by Audrey Firth) shared their view on “Quality Education in Europe by 2019” in light of the forthcoming European elections. Their key-note contributions were contrasted by input from civil society representatives, namely MEP Mary Honeyball, Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot for the European Commission and Philippe Ternes as Education Attaché and permanent representative of Luxembourg towards the EU. Also the participants had the chance to comment or ask questions to the panelists. The whole roundtable event was characterized by a controversial but yet constructive debate between the youth NGOs’ and EP and European Commission representatives respectively in which all actors took the opportunity to involve election campaigning.
Marcio Barcelos emphasized the key-points of the European Youth Forum’s policy paper on quality education (cf. http://www.youthforum.org/assets/2014/03/0317-13_POLICY_PAPER_QUALITY_EDUCATION_FINAL_withExSum11.pdf): While an increasing economization of education focused on numbers and outputs could be identified in nowadays’ Europe, it would be important to put again the learner at the center of education through a holistic approach and through providing a participative and supportive environment.
Quality education should therefore aim at preparing people to become more “complete” in their life. While it was admitted that for achieving this not only the learners’ but also society’s needs are to be taken into account, it was clearly formulated that quality education should equip young people with skills which can be useful for the labor market, but that it should not be the other way round limiting education to equipping young people with the particular skills the labor market demands. That is why the Youth Forum advocates not only for non-formal learning but rather non-formal education which implied consideration about its quality.
Maarten Coertjens focused on the dimension of quality education as two of the UN millennium development goals and made certain distinctions relevant to the discourse: First of all the debate would have shifted from mere access to education to the quality of education. This shift would imply a twofold debate to the question what “quality” actually is: a pedagogical and a political. A reduction of “quality” to what is measurable would imply the risk of a mere focus on what can be measured in terms of financial and other support. Instead of a controlling approach Coertjens therefore called for empowering indicators which would cover not only technical skills, but also values. In line with the Youth Forum’s position it was demanded to make possible a shift from learning for employment to learning for a lifetime in a globalized world claiming the term “labor market” to be a mere fiction. In the context of globalization Coertjens nonetheless warned about the risk of cutting off particular learning cultures already existing when “introducing” a concept of what one believes quality education is or should be. A focus on labor market skills backed by the argument of the current unemployment rate among young people in Europe was strongly opposed by Coertjens, who put emphasis on aims such as citizenship, political participation, peace education and sustainability.
Audrey Frith from EUCIS-LLL, which is a platform of several organizations, reinforced many points of the previous speakers and put emphasis on the concrete instruments to assure quality education such as a systemic approach and validation systems. In this context she also hinted at the need of sufficient funding and other support to make this instruments properly function and therefore lifelong learning at all possible.
Both representatives from the EP and European Commission clearly opted for a balance between labor market skills and life skills: While MEP Mary Honeyball demanded a closer cooperation between schools and universities and the labor market, Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot emphasized the European Commission’s view that learning achievements for the labor market bear at the same time the potential to be useful for one’s life. In this context she referred to the possibilities the new Erasmus Plus program would bear. Philippe Ternes, who was not in the position to speak on behalf of Luxembourg identified youth as the potential drivers for social change in Europe. He warned about the fact that validation procedures could have a demotivating effect and demanded a shift from the concept of teachers and professors to mentors and facilitators.
In line with the “Orientation Paper on Integral Education” (2004) and the “Statement on Integral Education” (2011) JECI-MIEC can agree with a holistic approach that puts the learners at the center of their educational processes. Furthermore: Although it would undermine the principle of schooling if education was not at all measurable, it would indeed be a mistake to infer that only what is measurable about education deserves funding or other support. However, JECI-MIEC being a platform of Catholic students prefers the aim of Integral Education to be the formation of “persons” or “personalities”. Each human person being created in the image of God is primarily wanted in his or her existence, wanted to be. If the learners’ needs were then to be taken seriously, it is first of all important to listen to the learners. E.g. what to do if the learners explicitly want to be educated by experts such as professors – regardless whether such an institution was brought about by social, political or cultural mechanisms? Why not trusting in young peoples’ potential to take up the challenge to be educated integrally, i.e. both formally and non-formally in the dimensions of knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and spirituality?