2020: how demography will change European education
Long-term demographic projections show a fall of around 11% among those aged 5-9 in the EU-27 by 2020. For the 10-14 age groups the projections show even more extreme situations with some countries set to experience a decline in the population of more than 40%. Despite significant regional differences, these projections point towards a general tendency of significant reduction in the total number of pupils in compulsory education. Meanwhile, population forecasts concerning the distribution of teachers in Europe show that as the age groups of teachers closest to retirement are over-represented, many countries will experience teacher retirement on a very large scale in the near future. While these projections will affect pupil participation and teacher demand in compulsory as well as post-compulsory education, they are also an opportunity to adapt and plan the human and material resources required to improve the quality and effective functioning of education systems.
Disparities in teachers’ status and conditions but a trend towards better qualifications and training
Disparities remain between formal requirements for teacher education on the one hand and the everyday reality and the means made available on the other. A coherent overall strategy on teachers and teacher education, taking account of the range of teachers’ duties and increasing responsibilities, can contribute to improving the overall quality of teaching. The status, working conditions and support provided to teachers are essential elements to consider within such an overall strategy. In many countries, continuing professional development of teachers is considered as an integral part of the professional duties of teachers but in practice often optional. On the other hand, special support for new teachers is becoming more widespread. As key players in education, in nearly all European countries teachers’ working time is not defined only in terms of teaching hours but as overall working time, including elements such as availability at school and preparation for classes.
More responsibilities for schools, school heads, teachers and parents
School autonomy has come to be a widespread policy in Europe. Initially pursued as a basic principle in order to guarantee teaching freedom, to strengthen local school democracy and to complete the process of decentralisation, school autonomy has today, in most countries, become an instrument to achieve primarily educational goals: in other words, more freedom is given to schools and teachers in order to improve the quality of education. Although all countries now view the purpose of school autonomy largely in educational terms, there remain marked differences across Europe in the implementation of the school autonomy process as well as in the extent and nature of autonomy. Differences in the implementation of school autonomy policies also exist with regard to the body or individuals to whom powers are devolved.
The changing face of the European Higher Education Area
Between 1998 and 2006, the higher education student population rose continuously in the European Union to reach over 18 million (a 25% increase in eight years). A third of all 20-22 year-olds now participate in a higher education course. A stable trend since 2002, women’s participation in higher education is higher than men’s overall (123 women enrolled for 100 men) but significant imbalances depending on the field of study still remain. In addition, participation of older students is a growing trend in line with the aim of a lifelong learning approach to knowledge, but with important variations between countries.
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