a viable pathway towards growth and cohesion
Each generation should deserve its own peace. My generation’s one is intertwined with variables that are keeping us in trenches: a mix of uncertainty, insecurity and incompleteness. No work, few concrete opportunities.
Our peace will have to be built out of the most direct and brutal contact with the reality we are living in, getting out of our houses where, with the eyes on the screens of our computers and TVs, we have accepted a thousand and more times what it was being said to us: crisis, unemployment, unemployment, crisis. To accept, this was our only option, and then to try our hardest to become part of the system. Now change will have to pass through recognition, the system will have to realize that our generation is here and cannot apathetically accept the current situation anymore. We are a packed-luggage generation, ready to move out and leave our countries for a better life, our best friends are the “Careers” section of companies’ websites (most of the times empty) and the low cost airlines ones. We have no place where to leave to anymore; we do not want to leave. Why should we give up our biggest dreams? Next time we will leave a place will be because of our free choice.
The agenda of the new European Commission is clear: creating growth and jobs is the first priority of President Jean-Claude Juncker’s 2014-2020 commitments. I cannot but welcome the Commission’s intentions; relevant changes are though needed if this goal has to be thoroughly reached.
What I consider fundamental to put into practice is a better implementation of the education and training objectives. The Commission has been very active to this extent and the yearly monitoring report of the Directorate General for Education and Culture represents a major effort towards the definition of a clear pathway to be undertaken. Disparities among member states’ education status quo is among the most worrying signals and efforts have to be put towards a more cohesive and resolute implementation policy.
Quality education and training is the main key to growth and an added-value for the European Union’s legitimacy. To be European should not be just about voting in the European elections, but about equal rights and potential opportunities across the EU. Unfortunately, throughout the past three years nineteen out of the twenty eight member states have cut their education spending reducing it, for eleven of them, under the EU average of 5.3% of the national gross domestic product. The crisis has majorly contributed to this worsening situation, and has had an impact especially on the young people that were finishing their studies when the economic recession burst in, that 80’s – 90’s generation that is still struggling to find its place within the jobs market. The cuts to education have worsened the situation, often reducing these young people to the status of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and leading them in many cases to an out-and-out social exclusion.
We have to raise our voices and sustain three necessary measures that need to be taken vis-à-vis this scenario.
The first one requires equity at the school level so that every European child, regardless of his or her socio-economic background, can have access to education. This measure is particularly essential at the primary school level: indeed, academic research on the topic has given evidence that early investments (kindergartens, pre-schools, primary level) in education are the most important ones and also the ones from which our economy and society could benefit the most.
The second concerns the on-going restructuring of labour markets and jobs. It is necessary that education policies are redefined to suit the current economic situation and prepare young graduates to access a job after their studies. To this extent soft skills, digital skills and lifelong learning are as fundamental as the traditional subjects in order to integrate graduates in the society in which they live.
The third measure is very much linked to the second one and regards tackling one of the weakest points of educational systems across the European Union, i.e. early school leaving. There are five million young people around Europe who leave education and training having achieved only secondary education or, in some cases, even less; this phenomenon contributes significantly to the unemployment rates and to the public costs of member states. Therefore an extensive implementation of vocational and education training (VET) is necessary in all the member states of the European Union. In front of a constantly ageing population within the EU, more funds have to be allocated towards the training of the youngest generation; education policies, so far mainly national policies, have to be widely integrated in the investment and growth portfolio of the EU. More VET, less debt! If the EU does not want to remain a mere elite political aspiration it has to work towards becoming a life experience and to take notice of its tightest priorities; it ultimately has to live with and within its people.
A “Guarantee Facility”, as the one recently approved for the cultural sector and ready for use as from 2016, is needed in the educational sector – not just in the form of student loans; the EU should introduce such a mechanism as a facilitation instrument between financial intermediaries and the national policy-makers. This device would entail rendering more funds available to invest at the national level in education and consequently lead to a faster growth within the EU. A policy into this direction would also enhance, as indirect consequences, a reduction of disparities among member states (as they would refer to the same growth indicators) and an increase of cohesion among these latters – as the guarantee would be uniformly monitored at the European Commission level.
We all acknowledge the higher added-value of programmes such as “Erasmus” for European citizens’ lives if compared to rather symbolic features, e.g. a European flag or a European anthem. Our greatest contribution would be reminding the EU why it had been created for and how it can effectively work with its people.
by Bogdan Pavel