By Hugh Starkey
While politicians and pundits tear themselves apart over the Brexit negotiations, it’s worth bearing in mind that European cooperation in education precedes UK membership of the European Union.
As the UK transitions to a new political and diplomatic relationship with Europe, the London Review of Education (LRE) is planning a special feature and has put out a call for papers that reflect on, celebrate and critically appraise ways in which education has evolved in the UK and in mainland Europe in response to opportunities offered by European cooperation.
The Council of Europe, which the UK played a leading role in founding in 1950, now includes 47 member-states. It promotes educational and cultural cooperation based on principles articulated in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), itself explicitly derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Council of Europe has influenced education policy and practice not only in Europe but across the world through programmes such as the Common European Framework for Languages and the Charter of Education for Democratic Citizenship / Human Rights Education.
As the demographics of Europe have evolved with the arrival of new citizens from former colonies and neighbouring states to provide essential labour and support, particularly for transport, health, social care and hospitality services, European ideals have been put under strain. A Council of Europe report identified eight specific risks to Council of Europe values: rising intolerance; rising support for xenophobic and populist parties; discrimination; the presence of a population virtually without rights; parallel societies; Islamic extremism; loss of democratic freedoms; and a possible clash between “religious freedom” and freedom of expression.
Alongside the Council of Europe, the single market economic bloc that became the European Union following the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 started to develop its own education policies. The Bologna process, initiated in 1999, aims to introduce a more comparable, compatible and coherent system for European higher education. Its focus on common standards for quality assurance has been highly influential in universities.
The EU has provided funding for research and curriculum development projects through its Comenius, Erasmus, Leonardo and Gruntvig programmes. Activities included university and vocational student mobility and exchanges and cooperation between schools and teachers. These are ongoing in the Erasmus+ programme that provides opportunities to study, train, gain work experience or volunteer abroad and funds consortia or partnerships aimed at innovating and modernising teaching and youth work practices.
The European Commission also funds educational research currently through its Horizon 2020 programme and previously through its Framework programmes. The strategic framework for Education & Training 2020 (ET 2020) addresses the challenges in education and training systems and prioritises equity, social cohesion, and active citizenship; lifelong learning and mobility; open and innovative education and training, fully embracing the digital era.
Education and training in the digital era was also the agenda of the Global HR Forum, that I attended in Seoul this month, along with over 3000 mostly Korean participants. The Forum confirmed my view that citizenship education still remains essential in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution. In my contribution I noted many indicators that neoconservative agendas have gone too far, quoting the recent intervention from the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, that the inspection focus on testing and examinations had harmed schools in drawing attention away from the curriculum.
I proposed that in our globalising world education for cosmopolitan citizenship based on understandings of human rights and particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides an agenda for schools based on children as citizens now rather than future citizens. I gave the example of the Rights Respecting Schools movement where 4000 schools in England are working out the implications of this. Another contributor, Pasi Sahlberg argued for greater emphasis on non-technological dimensions of education to provide a critical counterweight to a digital obsession that has led to current high levels of children’s mental illness.
European projects have often provided an impetus for innovations based on humane values. I hope this will form a significant strand in the LRE’s forthcoming special on European cooperation, and I look forward to reading your submissions.