Never too old to requalify

Nieuws | de redactie
19 juli 2013 | Under Lithuanian guidance, European educational policy will focus its attention on internationalization, especially cooperation with Eastern partners. Minister Dainius Pavalkis sets the stage.

Before the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament Minister Pavalkis outlined the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency in the field of education. Buzzwords were ‘leadership’, ‘requalification’ and ‘MOOCs’.

“As we speak about education and training in the 28 member states of the community, we are talking about the wellbeing of 500 million European Union citizens. We must ensure everyone access to quality and timely education, be it general education, higher education, in-service training or informal learning.

Challenges to respond to

Therefore during our Presidency we wish to emphasize the principles of quality and efficiency in the field of education and training. Our priorities over the next six months will be as follows:

  • Internationalization/globalization of higher education and efficiency of its financing,
  • leadership in education,
  • promoting openness of VET system, as well as strategic alliance between the world of Education and Employment
  • discuss Open Educational Resources and digital learning.

Globalization and technological development are changing the landscape of higher education and posing challenges to which Europe needs to respond. The international dimension of higher education is now a key topic on the European policy agenda in this area.

Positive record on internationalization

It is fair to say that European higher education institutions clearly have quite a positive record on internationalization, notably via their participation in EU and national academic cooperation programmes. They have a rich and diverse experience in developing international curricula and joint degrees, in fostering international education, research and innovation projects, in exchanging students, researchers, staff and knowledge.

While academic mobility is obviously a key component of any internationalization strategy, there is also a need to encourage more partnerships in higher education, not least with institutions in the EU Neighbouring/Eastern Partnership countries. This will help to increase international outreach and visibility, as well as enhance teaching and research capacities, and promote a more active role of universities in knowledge transfer.

Over the coming months we will be looking closely at all of the issues mentioned and will be responding to the Commission’s communication on the internationalisation of higher education On the basis of the Commission communication we will draft a set of conclusions on the globalization of higher education for adoption by ministers in November.

Coach crucial in team success

Our second priority is leadership in education. I am sure that many of you would agree that effective school leadership is a strong determinant of quality and efficiency in education and thus – an important factor in achieving educational success.

Yet it is true to say that at the Council level there has never been a specific initiative on this subject in its own right.

A football team can have many good players, but it takes a good coach for it to succeed. Similarly, an orchestra needs a conductor to bring out the best from each of its members. Schools are not so different. A school needs a strong leader if we want to achieve good learning outcomes.

Increasing leadership qualities

School leadership is clearly a major factor in shaping the overall teaching and learning environment, in raising aspirations and providing support for pupils, parents and staff, and thus in fostering higher attainment levels. Some research shows that leadership accounts for 27% of the variation in student achievement across school!

It is therefore essential to ensure that school leaders have, or are able to develop, the professional and personal capacities and qualities needed to assume the increasing number of tasks with which they are confronted.

Equally important is ensuring that school leaders are not overburdened with administrative tasks and that they are able to concentrate on essential matters such as the quality of learning, the curriculum, pedagogical issues and staff performance, motivation and development.

‘Requalify’ any time

These are among the issues which we will be putting forward for discussion in the months ahead, with a specific emphasis on leadership in general education and in vocational education and training. The outcomes of these discussions will then feed into a set of Council conclusions which we will prepare on school leadership for consideration by the Member States and adoption by the Council in November.

Our third priority is strengthening relevance of vocational education and training and encouraging its openness. It must be open not only to young people, but to each and every one seeking to ‘requalify’ at any moment of his or her life.

Tackle early school leaving

With regard to the need to ensure quality and boost employment, Europe must today focus on a number of highly relevant issues of vocational education and training. The Presidency will encourage further work on issues of vocational education and training

  1. that are important to the supply of necessary skills in the labour market,
  2. that increase inclusiveness and attractiveness of vocational education and training,
  3. that ensure access to continuing vocational education and training, and – last but not least –
  4. that emphasise the role of vocational education and guidance in tackling early school leaving.

Together with our colleagues from the Employment sector we will look for ways and means to strengthen the cooperation between the world of Education and the world of Employment in order to fulfill the Commitment of the Presidency documented in the Declaration on European Alliances for Apprenticeships, signed last week in Leipzig.

Explosion of MOOCs

I would like to finish my presentation by mentioning a new learning instrument that is gaining popularity but that still leaves many questions unanswered. It is massive open on-line courses (MOOCs), a challenge that has been brought about by the rapid development of new information technologies.

In August 2012, only four months after opening, a company providing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) registered over one million students, from nearly 200 countries! The sudden popularity of this and other forms of digital learning, coupled with university interest across Europe in expanding online content, demonstrate the impact, which this new model – and Open Educational Resources (OERs) in general – are beginning to have. 

Unsurprisingly, such resources have become hot topics not only for educational researchers, but for policy-makers everywhere. For some time now, it has been apparent that rapid technological change and increasingly easy and rapid access to the Internet, including via ever more sophisticated mobile devices, have the potential to revolutionize the way we teach and learn and to open up huge opportunities for the future.

The end of the teacher?

Properly exploited, these new resources have a huge amount to offer. They can promote knowledge-sharing and intercultural communication. They can broaden access to education, since teaching and learning can take place virtually anywhere. 

In their ability to reach large numbers of learners, including by creating virtual learning communities, they can increase cost-efficiency (and that is one of the priorities in education of our presidency), they can promote innovation in education and new methodologies. And they can improve the quality of learning (another important priority of ours) by offering more targeted, personalised approaches.

Of course, as with anything new, these resources pose many challenges too. Traditionalists even fear that digital learning will ultimately replace teachers! Although this seems highly unlikely, a more plausible concern is that they might lead to greater inequality in education by making access to ‘live learning’ the privilege of the few.

The fact is, however, that OERs exist and indeed are expanding at an exponential rate. There is therefore an urgent need for policy-makers to consider and discuss together how to manage the potential which OERs represent and to confront some of the issues they raise.

  • What should the policy objectives be when promoting such resources? 
  • How can we make best use of them? 
  • How can such resources be integrated with more traditional forms of teaching and learning? 
  • Should they be integrated into teacher education programmes? 
  • Is it possible to validate knowledge, skills and competences acquired on-line? 
  • And – most importantly perhaps, how can we ensure their quality?

We feel therefore that the time is ripe for the EU education ministers to consider the opportunities and challenges, which Open Educational Resources will bring.

In its Rethinking Education package of last November the Commission announced a new initiative on “Opening-up Education” to be launched mid-2013. The Lithuanian Presidency will respond to this by organizing an important policy debate among the EU education ministers in November on the many issues raised.”

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