Between the 23rd and the 26th of January 2019 the Bett Educational Technology Show took place in London. It is the first industry show of the year in the education technology landscape, bringing together 850 leading companies, 103 exciting new edtech start ups from all around the world and over 34,700 attendees (131 countries represented) from the global education community, that come together to celebrate, find inspiration and discuss the future of education, as well as the role technology and innovation plays in enabling all educators and learners to thrive. It has a buzzing atmosphere, every product is there to try, one could visit Mars, control a robot, create music, paint and build going from stand to stand.
The European Commission has organised an event on education as they usually do every year. Following the 1st European Education Summit held at the same time in 2018, the 2019 event took place on 24 January (followed by a separate, lower level meeting with civil society) in Brussels with a forward-looking goal: to envision education in 2030 and the necessary actions towards it. Parents International was able to bring not only the parents’ voice into the discussion, but also our global perspective and examples from outside of Europe. Representing parents from 24 European countries, we think it very important to bring European education (back) to global excellence.
The event was officially organised at the initiative of Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport by the European Commission, DG EAC, and provided an open platform for exchanges between about 300 education, training and youth stakeholders and policymakers. The main discussions focused on key issues that education and training will be facing in Europe and beyond until 2030, including the challenges associated to demographics; inclusion and citizenship; technological change and the future of work; digitalisation of society; environmental concerns; and investments, reforms and governance.
The Forum built on the work of the European Education and Training Expert Panel, a group of independent experts from across Europe. The Panel members presented their findings on the above mentioned six challenges and there was an opportunity to provide input to the preparation of the new EU education and training cooperation framework beyond 2020. The event was organised in the form of a mix of plenary sessions and interactive workshops, and there was plenty of time and opportunities for networking.
The most ambitious goal was set by Petra Kammerevert, Chair of the Education and Culture Committee of the European Parliament. She demanded that countries increase their education spending to 10% of their GDP and that a pan-European education policy is developed with a cross-cutting approach focusing on digital and soft skills and involving all stakeholders.
Several participants referred to the European Education Area of the European Commission as a good starting point, and there was an agreement that education actions should be aiming at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Participants endorsed the claim that it costs much more not to invest in education than the actual necessary investment.
The European Network of Children’s Universities (EUCU.NET) invited Parents International to contribute to their annual event to do a workshop with their members on parental engagement in nonformal education provisions like the services Children’s Universities provide. Before the workshop, Dr. Frank Tuitt of the University of Denver gave a keynote on a Global Framework for Advancing Access and Equity in Education Systems.
Although Dr. Tuitt has his expertise and was focusing on primarily higher education, his thoughts are valid for education in general. His work is aiming at creating environments where students feel they matter and they are important. It should happen regardless the fact that today’s students come to a classroom that was not designed for them. This is especially true since there is an increasing diversity of students enrolling while systems are designed for uniformity. The lack of feeling of belonging then prevents students from excelling. He asked the question what the goal of education was, and according to him our current schools seem to be in the “replication business” aiming at replicating the past and assimilating people in society.
He mentioned that although widening access should be the starting point, access doesn’t necessarily mean inclusion. While there are some core principles of inclusion, all education institutions need to create their own structure reflecting local reality. He demanded that we “make inclusive education a habit”. The core principles according to him are the following:
- Reflecting the diversity of identities in daily practice
- Focusing on intellectual and social development making sure students don’t “leave their identities at the door”
- Developing and utilising educational resources
- Having welcoming classrooms that celebrate diversity
- Recognise differences and reflect on them
- Creating environments that challenge every individual student in order for them to deliver at the highest level
If parents are engaged in designing such education environments, it might be easier for schools to implements them. For parents who wish to be engaged his mentioning inclusive education gaps could also be useful. According to him
- Inclusion innovation is often isolated from general activities and thus fail to change institutions and systems
- Excellence and diversity are often used as buzzwords and not put in real action
- “Champions of inclusion” need an accompanying “choir”, but they often work on their own wrongly indicating that others don’t need to do anything. There is a need to embed inclusion into general institutional strategy and practice.
When describing a systemic approach to making education inclusive, he mentioned the need to engage possible change agents throughout the system – parents being very good candidates for this.
In the workshop on parental engagement we discussed different forms and strategies of parental involvement and engagement, considered the lack of such practice in many nonformal education settings since there is no legal obligation, and explored STEM-related inclusion topics building on teacher training we had developed previously on parental gender bias and parents’ attitudes based on previous experiences. The participants designed their own actions for engaging parents for inclusion in their daily practice. We had the opportunity to have 3 Parents International trainers present, so it was possible to work directly with most Children’s Universities.
Public Policy Exchange organised a symposium in Brussels on 15 January 2019 on early childhood development and related systems that can help tackle inequalities. Parents International was invited as a speaker to bring in the parents’ perspective on the modernisation of childcare systems. Our contribution focused on the best interest of the child and parents. Other speakers included Nóra Milotay, a well-known international early childhood education expert currently working for the European Parliament Research Service.
Our contribution was focusing on the empowerment needs of parents, the first educators of their children, the need to acknowledge and value those parents, especially mothers, opting for care responsibilities rather than paid work, and the physical (breastfeeding) and psychological (separation anxiety) needs of very young children to be considered when developing early childhood policies.
The first years in human life are crucial for the development of essential competences, skills and learning dispositions that influence future education and employment prospects. According to the OECD Family Database, the participation rate for 0-to-2-years-olds in formal childcare and pre-school services is generally increasing across the EU, being on average of 30% rate. However, this number varies largely from one member state to another, varying between more than 60% in Denmark and 5% in the Czech Republic (OECD Family Database, 2016). Moreover, the GDP public spending on early childhood education and care is also differs (eg. 1.3% in Denmark, 0.4%GDP in the Czech Republic (OECD Family Database, 2017)).
In the EU early childhood development provisions are narrowed down to early childhood education and care institutional provisions driven by the 2002 Barcelona targets to provide childcare services to at least 33% of children under three years old. This is one of the EU provisions aiming at reducing the risk of inequities in opportunities of education and early school leaving. The EU is promoting easy access to childcare services for the official EU policy on the reconciliation of work and family life meaning promoting and incentivising young mothers to go back to work as soon as possible.
This international symposium, with the participation of relevant stakeholders, was also aiming at informing policy making by setting priorities for future policy recommendations and priorities, and it also made it possible to share ideas and inspiring practices from Europe and Canada.