[English version] Commentary by MEP Petra Kammerevert for CESI on the European Education Area: We can’t do it without teachers!

A commentary by MEP Petra Kammerevert, S&D Group Coordinator in the European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education (CULT), on the European Education Area.

Our society is facing major challenges that don’t end at the next border fence, whether that be with our neighbour or neighbouring country. This is not just apparent in the present COVID-19 crisis, the severity of which is not affecting all the EU’s Member States to the same extent, but which is having a drastic effect on public life across Europe. The fact that certain challenges require a European response can also be witnessed in many other respects.The education sector is a striking example, as it was pre-corona.

Throughout the Union, our children are being educated in rather dilapidated and poorly equipped schools. In all Member States, a desperate search is on for skilled workers that our education systems simply do not bring forward anymore.

The digitisation of all areas of our lives requires the acquisition of new and different knowledge and skills. However, school curricula in the vast majority of Member States have so far devoted very little attention to this. In addition, it has also become normal for many EU citizens to live, study and work throughout the EU. The fact that the cross-border (non-) recognition of qualifications and diplomas is often an obstacle to this is highly regrettable.

Challenges in educational policy no longer stop at the border of a region or a Member State. For this reason, it seems only sensible to pay more attention to education policy at EU level.

Fortunately, the European Commission has recognised this and, two years ago, outlined its intention to create a so-called European Education Area by 2025. The aim is to use education as a driver for employment, growth and social justice. With this in mind, the Commission wishes, inter alia, to do its part to ensure that quality early childhood education is guaranteed, every high school graduate can communicate to a good level in at least two foreign languages, educational and  vocational qualifications  are automatically recognised across borders, there is more effective cooperation when it comes to drawing up curricula, and that lifelong learning, and thus further education and training, is more strongly.

Setting goals is one thing, implementing them quite another. After all, sadly, not a great deal has happened since the announcement. The fundamental prerequisite for the implementation of many of the plans laid out by the Commission is, above all, investment in education by the Member States.

With all due respect to the fact that education policy remains primarily a Member State issue, one has to ask: why don’t the Member States invest 10 per cent of their respective GDPs in educating and training young people (presently, the EU average stands at 5 per cent)?

Alongside necessary investments in educational infrastructure, greater focus needs to be placed on training and further training for teachers. However, the European Commission has so far paid little attention to their role in the debate about the European Education Area.

High-quality education can only be achieved with sufficient, well-trained teaching staff – in urban and rural areas alike, but also in terms of specific subjects. A lack of teaching staff, whether this be in subjects like mathematics, IT, science and technology or art and music, which is becoming increasingly apparent in many member states, is unacceptable – both for the pupils, and for the teachers, who are being lumped with overtime and lessons which are not typical of their subject.

There’s thus an urgent need to make the teaching profession more attractive, in order to combat the lack of teachers. This means above all better working conditions and better pay. However, teachers also deserve more social recognition – particularly from parents. I hope that the COVID-19 related school closures make us all take note of the important role played by teaching staff in our day-to-day lives.

It’s true that it’s crucial that we make the teaching profession more attractive, but that alone won’t cut it. As part of their training, as well as in further training, teachers must be helped to prepare for new social challenges like the increase in multicultural classes and inclusive teaching. Alongside this, schools need to invest in additional qualified staff like integration assistants and school psychologists in order to ease the load placed on the teachers.

Digitisation also demands a lot from our teachers. Here, the expectations on the part of politicians as well as parents directed at the teachers are enormous. They are expected to educate our children on the risks and opportunities of the internet, to make use of all the possibilities provided by the digital change in a way that benefits our children, by integrating digital learning methods in the class rooms. In times of COVID-19, they are expected to transfer their entire courses onto the net, mostly without the schools possessing the required infrastructure, let alone having the opportunity to familiarise themselves with this kind of teaching in advance.

People expect more when it comes to teachers being aware of the topic, as well as to how they apply digital teaching methods in everyday school life. This is why we need concepts aiming to provide teachers with sufficient digital skills and guide them as to the ways in which they can promote a critical approach to media amongst their pupils.

However, the increasing focus on digital education must not, in my view, be at the cost of social relations between teachers and learners, as those contribute enormously to the pupils’ personal development. In the future, social skills will surely be as important as digital know-how. Online classrooms and exclusively individualised learning using tablets do not amount to a long-term alternative.

When it comes to mastering the current challenges in the field of education policy, therefore, we can see that teachers are taking on ever more responsibilities and being asked to dig deeper and deeper – not just in Germany or France, but across Europe. This is why the European Commission must, as a matter of urgency, spell out how it intends to support teachers better.

We in the European Parliament therefore eagerly await the Commission’s communication on the European Education Area announced for the autumn, in the hope that the much needed concretisations will be made and further steps in the implementation will be taken. After all, it’s a fact: in political time, 2025 is tomorrow and without teachers, we won’t be able to reach our targets  – without our teachers, there is no European Education Area!