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A European Education Area, dream or reality?

The European Commission has published its second package of initiatives in view of developing a European Education Area. The included proposals cover topics such as recognition of qualifications, early childhood education and care, digitalisation in education, as well as common values and inclusive education.

The adopted Council Recommendation on Common Values, Inclusive Education and the European Dimension of Teaching in particular sets the tone that has been growing in Brussels since the Paris Declaration of November 2015 of ‘social inclusion through education’. As such, the Council encourages national and regional education authorities to ‘provide the necessary support to pupils and students according to their needs’ as well as to ‘enable teachers, school leaders and academic staff’.

Following expert group discussions, of which EASPD was part of, the proposal for a Council Recommendation on High Quality Early Childhood Education and Care Systems (ECEC) calls on countries to ‘work towards ensuring that [ECEC] services are accessible, affordable, and inclusive.’ This call includes a particular focus on the importance of taking into account families’ needs and choices. The proposal also stresses the need to support staff training to deliver high quality services, and invites authorities to increase investment in the sector. While it’s regrettable that the proposal doesn’t cover informal care and specialised services due to EU limited competences, it is still a significant step in the right direction and with the right mindset.

The Commission is already planning to develop more initiatives to reinforce this emerging European Education Area, is including more references to inclusive education in the country reports and country specific recommendations, and is setting up ambitious goals and ideals meant to pave the way for Member States to reform and reinforce their national or regional education systems.

The devil is however in the details. The European Union has only limited competence when it comes to education and so is only allowed to support national efforts. As was stated in the Commission’s Communication on Country Specific Recommendations 2018, Member States tend to be more reluctant on reforming their social and educational systems and so progress can sometime be slow.

With the exam period quickly approaching, it is high time we put our education systems under examination. The Commission and EASPD seem to share a dream of an accessible, affordable and inclusive high quality inclusive education with trained staff supporting the needs of all learners. Let’s make sure our governments do too!

Timothy Ghilain
Policy Officer