20 February 2011

Manifesto for a European education system

"Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe."

Jean Monnet spoke in these words of the concept of European Schools more than half a century ago.

Having been privileged enough to attend a European school in my formative years, I can only share this quote‘s enthusiasm for a European model of education. However, notwithstanding the significant achievements that European Schools currently embody, with little more than 21.000 students attending European schools, it is hard to see it as a serious alternative and competing model to national educational systems. It is therefore time to be bolder and revive the European project with an initiative which is both ambitious and respectful of national sovereignty. 

The current approach to European schools needs to go beyond meeting the bureaucratic needs of European institutions and towards being an integral part of the European project. This imperative is justified by the realisation that the status quo is un-satisfactory while the potential for improvements are large and even crucial for the sustainability of the European project. Indeed, if European schools meet only corporatist needs how can there be there be a universal endorsement of the project?

An unfair and detrimental status quo
As it stands, the status quo is both unfair and detri-mental to Europe. It is unfair because average ex-penditures per student in European Schools are higher than in any Member States of the EU. To say the least, this is not necessarily justified on equity grounds, given the average background of European schools‘ students. Let us not forget where the European schools budget comes from: more than 50% comes from European institutions contributions and more than 20% from Member States.

This is then detrimental as it increases the resentment towards a Eurocracy‘ too often seen as privileged as well as separated from the national community in which it is located, and a conception of the European project which is out of touch with that of Europe‘s citizens. If European integration is to go ahead, European institutions need to be fully integrated in the national communities that host them, while Member States‘ populations have to be able to benefit fully from what European Institutions have to offer.


The need to go further: what ways forward?
But the solution is not cost containment, marginalisa-tion and race to the bottom. On the contrary, what is required is the extension and dissemination of the model. Addressing current shortcomings can only come from transformations which go hand in hand with a widening of the roles that European schools fulfil. 

Indeed, the full potential value embodied in the idea of European Schools still waits to be unleashed. European schools have the potential to be the first truly generalised EU institution in Europe. Industry had the Coal and Steel Community (ECSC/CECA), Agriculture had the Common Agricultural Policy, let the people have a world class school system able to meet globalisation‘s challenges while respecting diversity and pluralism. here are at least two reasons for the imperative to broaden the ambition of the European School model, which are intrinsically linked together and are at the heart of the European pro-ject, they are: Multiculturalism and solidarity.

Multiculturalism and multilinguism – the ability of different people to live and interact together is valu-able in its own right but it is also important for the European project. As is well known, it was important in the past to ensure that different populations would coexist peacefully in the Europe. It will be even more important in the future as diversity has increased significantly in European Member States in the past fifty years. Recognising this diversity requires allowing large communities from non European countries to be allowed to learn their language while making it possible for European nationals to learn other languages and better understand other cultures. 

Multilingual education should cater to the needs and legitimate aspirations of European and non European living in different European Member States. This is a pressing needs and the increased popularity of extreme right wing parties is still too often a sad reminded of this danger that inaction entails. But this is not merely an internal matter, it is now well known that competing in a globalised world necessitate an educated and multilingual workforce acquainted with other cultures.

Solidarity – solidarity between people starts early and it starts with mutual understanding and socialisation of people. It cannot be imposed or called upon from above as we have seen in recent events linked. to risk of default in certain European Member States. It needs to be created from the bottom up: European elites could have felt more solidarity with the Greek crisis had they attended a European School. It is hypocritical to lament at the lack of shared understanding and solidarity when nothing is done to foster solidarity between people and when European institutions serve as a scapegoat for any problems that national politicians are not willing to take responsibility for.

The case for investing in European education
European schools represent a superior alternative on both efficiency and cost effectiveness grounds. They would reduce fragmentation of the educational sys-tem and allow for economies of scale to be exploited. The typical European School is bigger than national schools and spreading the model would allow for more efficient organisational structures of the schools to be found.

It is true however that as it stands the per student budget of European schools is significant and probably higher than in many if not all other national schools. With total expenditures equal to 263,581,298 in 2009 and 21,644 students, the per student cost is higher than 12,000 Euros. This howeever should be seen in light of the high teaching costs resulting from the premiums that expatriated teachers command. Thus, the generalisation of the system would remove the need for such premiums thereby lowering the cost.

In addition, Education should be considered as an investment in human capital. Analyses of economic growth have consistently demonstrated that education is a significant factor in productivity growth and future economic development. Investing in primary and secondary education also has the highest rates of monetary returns to investment and social benefits, especially when compared with tertiary education which currently has much higher per capita ex-penditure levels.

Let us then work together towards a truly European model of Education to bring into being a united and thriving Europe” and turn the privilege I had into a new minimum educational standards that all Euro-pean citizens will be entitled to, for Europe will not be made with 'better communication‘ or by destroying the achievements made thus far.

Published in 'Education Europeenne', num 2, February 2011. For other articles published in this issue, more here.

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