- Original Article
- Open Access
The future of European education: A political strategy & four action areas
© The Author(s) 2014
- Received: 15 October 2014
- Accepted: 17 November 2014
- Published: 16 December 2014
The European integration project is confronting one of the greatest challenges in its recent history. The profound current financial crisis is jeopardising both trust in the process of integration and the support of European Union citizens. This paper aims to show the need to find transversal solutions to the immediate and future challenges that the European integration project faces. These solutions could emerge from the retrieval of the idea of including a European Dimension in Education, as a joint political strategy of the European Union and the Council of Europe, given that two separate, but convergent, trends have been identified. Special importance will be placed on the four action points that the European dimension could adopt (curricular and teaching materials; creation of school networks and extracurricular activities; initial and on going teacher training; and styles of centre management, leadership and administration). A firm commitment to embed a great deal of Europeanism into the education of the younger European generations (from the earliest age possible) would favour both a greater, and better, understanding of the process, and the active, participative and critical development of European citizens. It is here where the future challenge for European Education lies.
- European dimension in education
- Education for citizenship
- European Union
- Council of Europe
- Educational policies
- Supranational strategy
- European challenge
Nobody can now ignore that Europe is currently facing a huge predicament; this obliges Europe to reinvent itself once again if the region wishes to realise the original aspirations that motivated the current project of building and integrating Europe, establishing a closer union between its peoples and its regions. In the present context, characterised by the economical crisis, the political programmes of only one way and the political disaffection of the citizens with the European project, it is a matter of urgency to find new proposals, also for educational politics, across a new process of deliberation between institutions and Members States. That is, the countries that make up the European Club, both the Council of Europe (COE, 47) and the European Union (UE, 28), do not seem to understand this as an urgent challenge, if they wish to continue cooperating and consolidating the project, with the purpose of achieving the collective goals and objectives that would certainly not be achieved individually. The fact that this supranational alliance has brought about more than half a century of peace and prosperity on a great scale must not be overlooked.
We stand in front of a Europe of two faces, which presents an endemic and historical confrontation between the merchants and the citizens; between the states and the peoples and the regions; between the economy and the shared culture, roots and heritage; between bureaucracy and social reality. There are two aspects of the same Europe represented by the EU and the COE; two twinned organisations of European countries, (supranational in the case of the EU, and intergovernmental in the case of the COE) that share an embryonic context, an alma mater, an iconography and a common aim: the close union between its peoples and its regions, based and consolidated on a joint economy and a congruent distribution of wealth, according to the EU; and on a common and shared culture, education, heritage, values and legacy, according to the COE.
Both the EU and the COE, as entities, make up a dual Europe that is as dynamic and original as it is necessary. These two aspects represent together a geopolitical and virtual Europe, in the widest sense of the word, that expands itself, but the governing idea is that it rests on a number of values that become relevant in a common contractualised project . This is the global Europe that must look at itself today and assess if it is able to move forward with the political project, without taking into consideration Europe’s main asset: its citizens. This is the immediate challenge of 21st century Europe and of Europeans themselves: to integrate the different versions of Europe into one political project that defends the inclusion of a European Dimension in Education (EDE) as an immediate answer to the present and future European challenges.
Consequently, it is a matter of urgency to find solutions which inspire the European social and political mass and which offer answers to the great challenges that the European political organisations confront. Our proposal focuses on the support of the inclusion of the EDE in a joint and transversal manner, with the aim of favouring education for democratic citizenship (EDC), Europeanism, a European identity and the premise of unity in diversity, via the paradigm of lifelong learning. This idea acquires its heritage (acquis communautaire) and all its sense in the framework of the COE and the EU; it is a key concept that deserves to be revitalised and recuperated for political and social European action. Furthermore, four essential action points can be identified, in which the EDE could act in a decisive way, thus favouring the understanding and consolidation of the idea of Europe among its citizens considering that the forthcoming challenge of re-building Europe is a democratic project that should be immediately embedded in educational and training establishments.
To build Europe is above all a democratic project, and it is convenient that it puts down roots in teaching centres. It represents a resource of an open methodology that rests on experience, which must promote critical thinking, analysis and synthesis, and that goes further than the curricular contents to look for the roots of life in the teaching centres. This new practice is based on the participation of all the educational community (…) Teaching centres become a coherent group that records its action in a local community open to the world. [9:6].
Therefore, we understand that, given the challenge of integrating the EDE as a future road map, four primary areas of action must be specially highlighted, which are very important in their development: a) syllabus and teaching materials; b) creation of school networks and encouragement of extracurricular activities; c) initial and ongoing teacher training; and d) management, leadership and administration styles at teaching centres. Yet, identifying and promoting these areas of action is as important as developing them in a coherent and integrating manner, according to the unity in diversity of the Member States.
Inclusion of the European dimension in the curriculum, and teaching materials
Since the outset of the EDE, the aspect of including the idea of Europe as educational content in the curricula has not been studied in detail . On the contrary, in many cases it has turned out to be quite a controversial question due to the Member States’ evident reluctance to cooperate in these core matters. Within the framework of the EU, the Member States have never been overenthusiastic about the idea, and hence they have focused their efforts on instrumental areas of the EDE. In fact, from the start of European collaboration, there has been a general consensus about the ineffectiveness of introducing the idea of Europe as a new subject area in school programmes, already too overloaded; there is even the potential danger that it is reduced to a marginal school subject. In contrast, the COE has indeed devised innovative teaching approaches, such as the programme of educational materials to teach about the European dimension (1993).
The COE programme focused on the creation of several dossiers and monographs, as well as on their organisation and evaluation. These educational materials aimed to offer teachers educational alternatives to integrate the European dimension into their everyday practices, whilst benefiting from the combination of subjects and school programmes. A wide range of topics was covered, such as Human Rights in Europe; Conflicts in Europe; Teaching citizenship, etc. The main value of these resources lay in their cross-curricular and interdisciplinary qualities, as well as in the fact that they could be used anywhere within the European area. These materials created by the COE (dossiers and monographs) are a good starting point, within the necessary process of reflection regarding how the idea of Europe should be integrated today into the curriculum, and into school programmes.
A more appropriate method to integrate the European dimension in the content of programmes would consist of revisiting the presentation of those contents, for instance, introducing the idea that a particular aspect or topic can be tackled from different viewpoints and outlooks, according to the traditions of a country, and also according to different schools of thought. (…) A possible starting point could be a broader understanding of the European dimension, perceived less as academic content and more as a system of attitudes and intellectual approximations based on pluralism, tolerance, openness to other individuals, and ultimately, on the development of personal capacities to be able to synthesise and think critically in order to make a personal judgement [6:4].
In hereafter, the nature of the European dimension implies that its integration into the curriculum and school programmes could be done following a change in the methodological and pedagogical paradigms. Then, the idea that the EDE will be understood as a driving force in education as a whole, as well as a key factor in any reform, gains ground. Recently, Cort  has published an interesting essay about the policy and practice in the Europeanization of Curricula in Europe.
The European dimension in extracurricular activities and the links between schools
The changing power of the EDE could also permeate through extracurricular activities and incorporate itself into the school community as a whole, as it could assume its full relevance as a powerful cross-curricular element, able to closely intertwine academic and extracurricular activities, whilst outlining pedagogical projects and multidisciplinary approaches that would go beyond life at school. As a consequence, the development of a culture of participation in EU schools is increasingly more imperative. The common activities carried out over more than 50 years of cooperation in education, such as exchanges of students and teachers (the Socrates programme), educational events (school competitions; Europe Days in schools; Europe Day), networks of multilateral collaboration between teaching centres, common educational projects, grants for teacher training in European affairs, etc., clearly reinforce the supranational dimension in schools.
The so-called Pedagogy behind school exchanges  must figure prominently and would imply aspects such as teacher training aimed at school links and exchanges, exchanges as elements in both the curriculum and educational programmes, and the potential that ICT offers in their development. However, in spite of the fact that many European educational establishments have joined different patterns of school exchanges or links via European programmes, it has not yet become a conventional practice in Europe. In some way, it has not been possible, at a national dimension, for schools to be supported, encouraged and motivated to perform multilateral activities. Above all, school exchanges denote a key element for mutual understanding in a multicultural society.
These experiences of inter-school collaboration rely on teachers as the main actors in their implementation and development. They are also useful to encourage innovative pilot experiences, to consolidate the flow of information among teachers, as well as to reuse and reinforce teaching methodologies that favour good practices with a European dimension. Similarly, students and their families are the main beneficiaries, as they are given the opportunity to participate in exchanges, to get drawn in and take part in life at school. These activities are based on direct experiences that imply specific situations, close to real life, that place the emphasis on problem-solving, on obtaining concrete results via teamwork and assumed common responsibilities. For example, it is necessary to highlight the e-twinning initiative (www.etwinning.net), the community for schools in Europe offers a big network to share proposals and find European partners in this field.
The European dimension and (initial and continuous) teacher training
A greater receptiveness on the part of new teaching staff regarding the European dimension (for example, supporting the Erasmus programme in education and training degrees);
The reinforcement of the European framework of key competencies concern all teachers as future professionals; they will allow them to put in motion these Europeanist attitudes and good practices in their professional tasks;
A belief in more specific competencies related to the introduction of the European dimension in education (Europeanization of subjects to restructure their methods and content) or, in the activity of administrative or managerial functions in educational establishments.
Furthermore, an inner connection should be established between initial and lifelong training. The proposals put forward at the initial training stages should have continuity as well as a sequential logic in continuous teacher training. The European dimension could even be placed in lifelong education, as one of the specific training needs at schools. Training in the EDE should prepare participants for the management of activities geared towards refresher courses for professionals at their own schools. Both the successful planning and implementation of these activities, and the exploitation of the opportunities offered by European programmes, are key in the processes of continuous education. A wide range of activities must be offered in order to cater for the existing diversity among teaching staff. That is to say, to address this diversity, the continuous training initiatives must lead to very distinct modalities that allow teaching staff to find a formula that fits their particular context and needs. The interest in the European dimension will contribute to a better (and more flexible) training throughout their entire professional teaching career. It is crucial that teachers acquire the ability to adapt to the constant changes that the European context brings. Otherwise, any type of training may become obsolete within a short time.
Applying the European dimension to school management, leadership and administration styles
EDE integration should also lead to changes in school organisation and structure, while requiring more flexible designs and permanently innovative processes. Therefore, it will be necessary to equip schools with a greater autonomy to manage themselves, and to set up decentralisation and to transfer processes towards municipalities and local entities. This pro-openness situation will imply the need to create and redefine new professional profiles for teaching agents and school managers. Teachers will no longer act single-handedly in a classroom, and their mission will not only consist of supplying knowledge. The role of managers—now also as managers and leaders in the education community –, of administrative staff and other agents involved in the inclusion of the EDE in the management of the school community, all acquire a greater significance.
The educational leadership of school managers towards the European dimension cannot be sufficiently emphasised, they underline that the EU includes leadership as one of the crucial aspects in the quality of education systems and, particularly, in school management. Educational leadership is related to education and the effects it has on students’ level of achievement and their direct learning experiences . The European Commission has placed special attention on leadership in education in the European context, as a strategy to raise quality in education, providing adequate initial teacher training and continuous development of teaching staff, and to make teaching an inviting choice as a professional career [16:11]. Its main strength lies in the fact that, to orientate the European dimension towards education implies the development of a profound, structural Europeanist project, with schools and educational establishments at its heart, and the leadership of education professionals who are competent in the European dimension. The choice to include the EDE in school life must go hand in hand with a careful and thought-out planning stage, based on the culture of participation and on the openness of educational establishments to the community to which they belong. In this perspective, the educational establishment becomes the epicentre of diversity and Europeanism, in line with the closest local context (doing a better convergence between the peoples and regions in Europe).
The EDE aims to imbue national education systems with a Europeanist substance, which complements national traditions, and rests on the common principles and values of our historical heritage and the cultural legacy (acquis communautaire) shared by all Europeans. Its strength lies in the progressive installation of a new Europeanist philosophy of education (via a transformational undercurrent), which favours openness with regard to education systems, policies and teaching practices in Europe. This process, established in a coherent and functional manner, will encourage the creation and consolidation of a consistent, accessible, flexible and diverse European Education Area; a place where the younger generations from any country can acquire key competences to live, feel, understand, work and socialise in Europe, as well as perform their duties and responsibilities as European citizens. The value brought into the intergovernmental education cooperation by the EDE becomes especially meaningful for the raising of quality in education, if action is taken globally and in a coordinated way in all the four previously mentioned areas of action.
Rediscovering the EDE and insisting on these areas is crucial to the renovation and reestablishment of educational policy and pedagogy in Europe, as an answer to future challenges. Its sphere of influence affects education as a whole, thus all elements of education and training systems must be incorporated, from core elements (attitudinal) to peripheral elements (instrumental). This idea could signify the cornerstone of the supranational European education policy of the 21st century. It is the driving force that runs through all the elements, specific areas and programmes of this policy. Its versatility imbues it with attitudes which act as the guiding principle and engine of all the activities in education matters. It could become the political paradigm par excellence of supranational education towards change and pedagogical renovation in Europe, together with diversity. Its relevance is backed up by the European socio-political context, which effectively heads towards a globalised future, inter-reliant with the Europe of people and regions, united by their diversity. Therefore, its prominence in national education policy must be revitalised and fed from the European institutions as a whole, because otherwise it will not be possible to build a common future, with firm foundations, beyond economy and market needs. Only in this way is it possible to understand a path towards common management of a Europeanist education system, based on the cross-curricular nature of the EDE, via a multilateral and decentralised collaboration, with shared responsibilities at different levels (from the European institutions to minor local entities).
The main obstacles that the present proposal may encounter are the ways to persuade the Member States, on one hand, to overcome the problem of tension between the nation as old ethnocentric container and Europe as new ethnocentric container. In the background of this question is the search for a better equilibrium between the unity (so far of the economic dimension) in diversity (so close in the cultural and pedagogical dimension); and on the other hand, to allocate financial resources which sustain a coherent achievement of political action, and fundamentally, that the Member States themselves value this proposal as a positive initiative (this latter aspect seems unlikely, given the historical events which have occurred). The Member States have been the main impediment and conditioning element in their fate regarding education policy. So far, they have never shown sufficient forward-looking vision to go beyond national interests in favour of a greater convergence, such as occurs with common policies. It is time to ask the Member States to make a firm commitment to education and citizenship in the immediate future, via the inclusion of the EDE in the national education systems.
The EDE like a political strategy could be the political answer of the Members States to the European educational challenges in the near future (an old innovation for a new time, characterised by a real unity in diversity). And its four main action areas could be developed with good practice and pedagogical innovations like a political and pedagogical road map. Finally, is important to highlight that this work is a political proposal based on the idea of the EDE, like the essence of the acquis communautaire obtained in the recent European history and its educational and political issues. All the collateral aspects of its development in other European dimensions (political, cultural, social, etc.) need to be reviewed and re-thought by the main agents involved. These proposals include a beginning of a deliberation process and intend to give a first step to launch the redefinition process to build a new Europe in the 21st century through education and citizenship.
This epigraph refers to the analyses realised by the author in his Doctoral Thesis, cited in the bibliography [13: 445-530] (Chapter 7. The European Dimension in Education: Comparative and supranational perspectives). This process is based on the analysis and the interpretation of different documents dedicated to this specific question (EDE) in the EU and the COE. We can only emphasise the real ones, which try to be a strategy or tool of action: EU, European Commission Resolution about EDE (1988); and COE, Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education Resolution n° 1, about EDE: practical of the teaching and contents of the programs (1991). The rest are documents referring to intentional aspects—also very important—of the process of deliberation between the institutions of each organisation (the encouragement of European subjects at History and Geography schools, the promotion of a European community spirit, the fostering of exchanges among teachers and students, the learning of languages, etc.).
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