In the past decade, the focus of the European Commission is solely on the convergence of policies for education systems throughout Europe. If all education systems in Europe work in the same way they can achieve their aims of the marketization of education in Europe in order to both improve the education system and also to solve other issues, particularly unemployment. In ‘Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes’ The European Commission wrote that “Work based learning should be a central pillar of vocational education and training across Europe, with the focus on reducing youth unemployment, easing the transition from education to employment with the skills needed by the current labour market” (2012:6-7). In this essay it will be argued that the future of European education is focused on marketization to improve the economic situation in Europe, to do that some countries such as Germany’s education system are being used as a model to base the education systems in other European countries on.
It has been recognised throughout Europe that investment in the education system and training for skills development is essential in order to boost growth and competitiveness. If education and training is invested in, the whole of Europe will witness the advantages, as an increased number of skilled workers will enter the labour market, therefore increasing levels of productivity. The quality of education has improved worldwide, therefore Europe needs to ‘up their game’ in order to be able to compete with trade around the world. The European Commission want schools to prepare children for employability and give them a taste of what the working life is like. To do this schools need to work closely with local employers and businesses in order to find what they want from their employees and then transfer this into teaching these skills in school.
There has been progress however Europe is still not meeting the target set. More people need to complete higher education in order to produce a highly skilled workforce in the future “sustained efforts will be needed to reach the headline target of 40% of young people completing higher education” (European Commission, 2012: 2). 73 million adults within Europe have only a low level of education therefore they are targeting adults into going back into some sort of education – currently the level of people participating in lifelong learning stands at 8.9%. Schools are needed to up children’s results before the labour market becomes impossible to enter with a low level of education. Education also needs to focus on the individual to ensure that all their needs are being met throughout their education. “The broad mission of education and training encompasses objectives such as active citizenship, personal development and well-being” (European Commission, 2012: 2). However, one can argue that these are also ways into ‘brainwashing’ pupils into taking higher education courses so that they can enter the workforce. Youth unemployment is increasing therefore the state needs to convince young adults to enter the workforce with a high level of skills in order to gain jobs as the expectations increase. Attention of the European Commission focuses highly on the current rate of youth unemployment rates and how to tackle this issue. However, there are concerns that this needs to improve at a rate which is near impossible for schools to implement; if schools are planning for this to be achieved by 2020 there are four more years or pupils passing through education without these newly taught employability skills, will this leave them at a disadvantage when pupils younger than them will have these skills.
Modern, knowledge based economies require people with higher and more relevant skills; the current prediction is that the amount of jobs requiring tertiary level qualifications will increase from 29% in 2010, to 34% in 2020, leaving just 18% of jobs for people with lower level skills. Transversal skills required include the abilities to think critically, use initiative, problem solve and work within groups. Entrepreneurial skills will also not only contribute to the employability of young people but will also allow the creation of new businesses. Schools should foster these skills through new and creative ways of teaching and learning from primary school onwards, secondary schools should also be focusing on encouraging the attendance of higher education and also promote the idea of creating new businesses and deciding on a career path earlier on. As previously stated, all young people should have experience in the workplace before leaving secondary education in order to allow them to gain an idea of what career path they wish to take. As well as this, research by the European Commission (2012) found that there is high demand for STEM skills. These stem skills being science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Greater efforts need to be made by schools to promote these subjects and make them a priority. With an increase in these stem skills, it can address the issues with the current main skill shortages, especially within sectors with a current huge growth potential such as ICT and personalised services. However, in order for these higher level skills to be achieved it needs to be ensured that the most basic skills are achieved by all students, such as basic level maths, English and science. The share of 15 year olds that have not acquired these basic skills still remains at around 20% while 5 countries are still over 25% in reading. One suggestion put forward by the state is that primary schools need to increase efforts in identifying pupils that are struggling at these subjects earlier on so that support can be implemented. Another one of the main focuses of the European Commission is technology; technology offers opportunities to improve the quality and ease of access within education and training. It can reduce barriers to education, particularly social barriers; it can allow individuals to learn anywhere, at any time. However, this requires good computer skills and some member states are still lagging behind with nine member states with over 50% of 16-74 year olds with no or very low knowledge of computer skills. Although the use of ICT within education and training is being encouraged there has yet to be any increase in support of teaching computer skills. It is recognised that it is “time to scale up the use of ICT in learning and teaching” (European Commission, 2012: 9) and that for flexible learning the use of technology should become imbedded in educational practice.
There has also been programs set up that have allowed a convergence of policies between different countries; one current program that has been a success is the European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, or Erasmus, which was launched in 1987. In ‘Student Mobility in the Framework of ERASMUS: Findings of an Evaluation Study’ Teichler states that “The purpose of the program was to further student mobility in Europe; it encourages students to study in another country between three months and a year”. Many pupils have used this program to travel abroad in order to widen their skills, however, it is understood that many pupils do not return to these countries to work. In an ideal world, it is hoped that pupils will be further encouraged to then take up jobs in different European countries. Also, the ongoing development of the Bologna Process has contributed to the recognition of higher education not only within Europe but also world-wide. In ‘Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes’ The European Commission wrote that its objective is to “place students on an equal footing, irrespective of the origin of their academic degree” (2012: 8). The European Higher Education Area (2014) explains that the Bologna process was launched in 1999 and is a voluntary process in which currently 48 countries participate, together with the European Commission. They meet every two or three years to discuss the progress of higher education within Europe.
A number of tools have also been implemented to improve transparency to enable students to easily transfer to other countries, such as making qualifications comparable across countries and also making credit points transferable. There is also room for a much closer coherence of different tools and services, this will help contribute to European mobility, where a person’s knowledge and skills can be clearly understood and recognised. The European Commission (2012) recognised that the creation of the proposed European Area of Skills and Qualifications will support the drive to achieve transparency and the recognition of academic qualifications across Europe. Academic recognition creates the pathway for ease of movement within Europe; the recognition of higher education qualifications has been on the European policy agenda for a long time.
However, if we are to achieve the goal of young adults travelling freely and working within different countries in Europe then the ability to speak foreign languages is a necessity, poor language skills are a major obstacle for the free movement of workers. As well as this, people higher up in the business world need to have the ability to communicate with other businesses globally to increase worldwide trade. Despite most secondary schools and an increasing number of primary schools teaching a foreign language in the UK just 9% of pupils can independently speak another language. One reason for this could be that due to this being a relatively new scheme in primary schools the teachers having to educate pupils in this language may not be fluent or familiar with the language themselves; the teacher can only teach a language to the ability that they themselves have.
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