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Month: September 2019

The end of an Era, a new beginning for an Area?

The Second European Education Summit, hosted on 26 September 2019 in Brussels by outgoing EU Commissioner for Education, Culture and Sports, Tibor Navracsics was focusing on one element of formal education, teachers. The parents’ voice was brought to the Summit by Parents International where we also had the opportunity to present the work done this year in the European Education Policy Network on Teachers and School Leaders, focusing on the attractiveness of teacher and school leader careers.

When opening the Forum, Commissioner Navracsics recalled the priorities, especially those in the European Education Area plans. He emphasised several times, not only in the opening, but also later in another session that these are mutual priorities, while education should remain fully national competence in his opinion. He claimed that education is back at the top of the EU agenda and said it should stay there and become the social elevator again. In his opinion the way to achieve this is to have excellent teachers, and for that there is a need for proper training, more autonomy, less administrative work, as well as higher salaries and prestige to attract new generations.

Mario Monti, former Prime Minister of Italy and former EU Commissioner shared his belief that social mobility is still possible, and it is something teachers can encourage, but also discourage. He also believes that the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen is committed to delivering on the European Education Area and to introduce a Child Guarantee, while her priority in education seems to be around digital literacy. He emphasised that European values need to be included in education as well as protecting climate as a common good, so an ethics of ecology and pedagogy of solidarity are necessary.

An emotional keynote by a teacher from Belgium, living with sclerosis multiplex, Christoph Schiebold called for individualised and discovery-based education for all. He called education systems and schools to respect that every child is different and develops at their individual individual pace. Thus, the goal of education and the role of teachers must be to help them grow towards their personal perfection. For this, you need to understand that perfection is omnipresent, but it does not mean fitting any kind of template. He told the audience that it was his health condition that made him think like this, and also to come to the conclusion that there is a need to take the teacher out of the learning equation, they are there to guide children in their learning journey. He called for teachers to find perfection in imperfection and for education systems to aim for educating critical thinkers, empathetic, caring global citizens with resilience.

Li Andresson, the new Minister of Education of Finland announced the first joint meeting of the Councils of Finance and Education Ministers of the EU. She praised the current European policies related to the Social Pillar and the European Education Area. Having said that, she called for more future-oriented education systems in the EU, focusing on digitalisation and artificial intelligence, the need to boost lifelong learning policies for re- and up-skilling, and providing incentives and motivation for lifelong learning. She also emphasised that for success we also need people on the ground to put policies into practice. She announced that the role, status and training of teachers will be the topic of their Presidency Conference in December.

At the session entitled ‘Are teachers the neglected cornerstone?’, Pasi Sahlberg, the well-known Finnish education expert called for changing cornerstone to cornerstone to project a dynamic notion on the role of teachers. He highlighted that teachers are often not prepared for the multiple challenges of current school realities they are facing. While they indeed need to take on new tasks, policy should also tell teachers what they can drop, especially in administration. He called for Ministers of Education to spend a lot of time in the classroom to understand how the reality of school has change in order to create well-founded policies. He also highlighted the need for collaborating with parents and also with non-education professionals. He also called for a change of focus of education in order to focus on happiness and well-being as they are not there anymore to train productive workers for the assembly line. This shift would also provide the way to tackle cultural diversity and multilingual classrooms.

In an interesting intervention Iris Eliisa Rauskala, the Austrian Minister of Education called for focusing on good results. In her opinion the fact that 85% of Austrian teachers are satisfied in their jobs is a value on its own regardless the fact that they see little impact of their work on their students. At the same time, she also mentioned that teachers lack training in teaching the children they actually teach.

In a session on the attractiveness of the teaching profession very different views were presented by Ministers of Education from Finland and Malta. While in Finland teacher satisfaction is closely linked with the trust in teachers, from Malta there was a call for more discipline in schools to ‘make it possible for theachers to teach’.

In the same session, a school teacher from Estonia, Margit Timakov listed a number of important factors from a practitioner’s perspective: trust, autonomy, good training, good salary, induction and continuous mentoring, providing for mental health, good physical, psychological and social environment in the school, and more flexibility in both training and recruitment (also making teaching attractive for those who want to opt for a career change in their 30’s-40’s. She also called the attention to the difference between statistical and structural teacher shortage.

The event was held on the European Day of Languages, so the session on languages was of special importance. EU policy is officially still pursuing the language of instruction and learning two ‘foreign’ languages, there is no mention to mother tongue. Thus, it was a nice addition that Sweden presented their policy ensuring the right to mother tongue, an initiative clearly leading to better inclusion. Multilingual experts called for a needs-based approach to language learning as a way to success (highlighting that passing an exam is not considered to be a valid need here).

In a session on STEM/STEAM education European Schoolnet presented some very discouraging statistics from their survey done in 2018. According to this, an overwhelming majority of STEM teaching is still in the form of traditional direct instruction (79%). They emphasised the need for motivated and recognised teachers, innovative pedagogy and creative curricula, encouraged by industry. For leaving the silos of discipline/subject, there is a need for revamping student assessment. This is closer to reality than most think in Flanders, Belgium where 80% of secondary maths teachers had no maths major.

A session that was supposed to be on common values in diverse classrooms somehow became a strange anti-Muslim session, while the last session on bringing companies and schools together called for guidelines for collaboration – something we have been working on as experts with the Council of Europe.

Commissioner Navracsics called this forum, gathering a high number of Education Ministers, stakeholders, industry and practice together for the second time hoping to create a tradition. We will see if it will become one with education being hidden mostly in the portfolio of the Commissioner for Youth and Innovation in the 5-year period of the incoming European Commission. We will be there to bring the parents’ voice.

Setting up children to #beactive for life

Toys Industries of Europe invited policy makers, professionals, advocacy organisations and representatives of toy manufacturers to an event in the European Parliament during the European Week of Sports in order to advocate for re-inventing it as a European Week of Play and Sports. Parents International was represented by our Director, Eszter Salamon, who could use this opportunity to present the work done in Playfutures, especially the Guidelines for Communication with Parents.

The hosting MEP, Miapetra Kumpala-Natri from Finland emphasised the clear link between well being and the potential of economic growth, thus making a case for play even in an economy-focussed EU. She also highlighted that an early active lifestyle established the same for later in life, thus making the case for active play as a good basis for adult health.

Heidi Sulander, representing the Finnish Presidency of the EU introduced the Finnish approach to sport for children, promoting play and fun rather than competition. She also introduced the priorities of the Presidency in Sports: fighting corruption and safeguarding children – physically as well as preventing bullying, exploitation or any other form of harm.

Juana Willumsen, an expert at the World Health Organisation (WHO) introduced their global initiative to reduce physical inactivity by 10%. This is a reaction to many worrisome recent developments, including a significant growth of childhood obesity in low and middle income countries. According to global data, the 150 active minutes per week moderate activity requirement is not achieved by 1 in 4 adults, while 4 in 5 adolescents do not meet the 60 minute per day requirement.

WHO also developed and published new recommendations on the ideal percentage of physical activity, sleep and sedentary behaviour of children of different ages. This is the publication that was quoted as one ‘banning screen time for young children’, but this is not the case. While they clearly discourage to include time in the day when the child is sitting in front of a screen and not interacting or moving, other activities are welcome. When reading on a screen and discussing with parents, skyping with family members or watching a TV programme that encourages them to imitate and move, the activity is not considered sedentary.

WHO has also published guidelines for nurturing care for Early Childhood Development. They are also aiming at shaping family habits of play to encourage becoming more active physically. There will be new guidelines published on safe risk-taking as being risk-adverse is one of the reasons why parents often prevent their children’s physical activity.

Amanda Gummer from Fundamentally Children, a research consultancy organisation presented ther play pyramid model to help finding a balance of different playful activities. She claimed they are missing a link between free/imaginative/social play and learning in their own research. In their experience parents acknowledge play as being useful for exploring personals interests and talents. With regards to outdoor play parents’ main fears are around safety (risk of abduction) and traffic. While the latter is a well-founded fear as traffic has increased in the past decades, the former is unfunded. While media boosts such cases, the world, especially living anywhere in Europe has never been safer for children. In this field there is a need to educate parents, but urban design initiatives are also important.

In their model, indoor play is not low down the play pyramid. They have also emphasised benefits of screen-based play especially in the field of intergenerational learning and accessibility. She also emphasised how important parent well-being is for being a good parent, namely that parents understand their own needs.

The representative of COFACE questioned the fact that play deprivation is becoming a growing phenomenon in Europe, while there is ample research proving it.

It hurts – Vaccination Summit 2019

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Commission has organised a Global Vaccination Summit in Brussels on 12 September 2019. The aim of the event was twofold: to accelerate global action to stop the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and to advocate against the spread of vaccine misinformation worldwide. We were represented by Brigitte Haider, Chair of our Supervisory Board. This summit was one of the rare events putting the important role of parents in the focus of the presentations and considerations as well as their needs, worries, expectations and hopes. Being present there was a first step in approaching this topic on a large scale and the main outcome from Parents International’s perspective is that we have managed to establish a collaboration with WHO and the next step on the journey together will most probably be the WHO Vaccination Confidence Forum. You can read some highlights of the conference in the detailed report below.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said: “It is a noble aim to save human lives and not to accept fatalism. It is inexcusable that in a world as developed as ours, there are still children dying of diseases that should have been eradicated long ago. Worse, we have the solution in our hands, but it is not being put to full use. Vaccination already prevents 2-3 million deaths a year and could prevent a further 1.5 million if global vaccination coverage improved. Today’s summit is an opportunity to address this gap. The Commission will continue to work with the EU’s Member States in their national efforts and with our partners here today. It is important to re-establish trust. This is a global challenge we must tackle together, and now.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, said: “After many years of progress, we are at a critical turning point. Measles is resurging, and 1 in 10 children continues to miss out on essential childhood vaccines,” said Dr Tedros, “We can and must get back on track. We will only do this by ensuring everyone can benefit from the power of vaccines – and if governments and partners invest in immunization as a right for all, and a social good. Now is the time to step up efforts to support vaccination as a core part of health for all.”

Opening the summit, President Juncker and Dr Tedros called for an urgent intensification of efforts to stop the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles. In the past 3 years, 7 countries, including 4 in the European region, have lost their measles elimination status. New outbreaks are the direct result of gaps in vaccination coverage, including amongst teenagers and adults who were never fully vaccinated. So far in 2019, reported measles cases have reached the highest numbers seen globally since 2006. Misinformation is as infectious as measles itself. To tackle vaccination gaps effectively, the summit addressed the multiple barriers to vaccination, including rights, regulations and accessibility, availability, quality and convenience of vaccination services; social and cultural norms, values and support; individual motivation, attitudes, and knowledge and skills.

The WHO has declared vaccine hesitancy, including complacency and lack of confidence and convenience, one of ten threats to global health in 2019. Vaccines are safe and effective and are the foundation of any strong Primary Health Care system.

Worldwide, 79% of people agree that vaccines are safe and 84% agree that they are effective, according to the Welcome Global Monitor on how people around the world think and feel about science and major health challenges. Yet, the State of Vaccine Confidence in the EU report shows that vaccine refusal has been increasing in many EU member states linked to low confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines worldwide. This lack of confidence contributes significantly to lower coverage rates, which are essential to ensure herd immunity and are leading to increases in disease outbreak.

According to a Eurobarometer from April this year, almost half of the EU public (48%) believes that vaccines can often produce serious side effects, 38% think they can cause the diseases against which they protect and 31% are convinced that they can weaken the immune system. These figures are also the result of an increased spread of disinformation about the benefits and risks of vaccines through digital and social media.

The executive director of UNICEF sent a video message: Vaccinations can save 5 children per day, nevertheless, every 10th child is not completely immunized. In the case of the Ukraine it took 10 years to catch up with the deficits. Main reasons for vaccination hesitancy are scepticism, poverty, distrust and misinformation. Therefore, it is of upmost importance to provide excellent information for worried parents. This information has to be offered in easy to understand language, evidence based and built on scientific sources.

After the official statements listing the facts and setting out the scope of this issue it was a real pleasure listening to the other inputs high lightening the important role of parents in this field. Parents were not blamed, but they were seen as partners who have to be approached on eye-level, given adequate information and support as well as time to take meaningful and informed decisions. It is out of question that every parent wants the best for their children. Health professionals play an exceptional and most responsible role. They have to be vaccinated themselves and need to be trained.


Laetita Rispel, President of the World Federation of Public Health Association gave a remarkable statement HOW to build trust and empathy. Her 3 key messages for health providers are:

  • Health providers should use any opportunity to communicate with the parents – from pregnancy until the first 6 years of the child.
  • Health providers have to overcome their own preconceptions towards parents. Parents are often accused to be ignorant and do not act in the best interest of the child.
  • Health providers have to improve their communication skills – in basic training as well as in CPD.

Trust building is not an easy task. You have to listen to parents – their worries and their needs. They need time to find out different opportunities and consequences. You have to give them time to reconsider their opinion. Another important fact is to reflect on the opening hours of health professionals, whether they are in line with the availability of parents.


Maud Sacquet, policy manager of Mozilla, and Jason Hirsch, policy manager of Facebook, are quite aware about their role in spreading misinformation. Disinformation is a complex problem and complicated topic. It is important to empower people in critical thinking. They should find out who is posting and who is benefitting of disinformation campaigns. Partnerships are very important in reducing misinformation. Providers should increase their cooperation with reliable experts. GDPR may also help.


Elhadj As Sy, secretary general international federation of red cross, noticed “where is the most need, there is often not a doctor, even not a government, even not a health system”. So, the main question is “how to do normal things in abnormal situations”. He called on to listen AND act on the issues raised! Trust building means being there all the time – before, during and after campaigns. Community resistance is often rooted in misunderstanding: people feel like guinea pigs or abused for the sake of others, like “I have to be immunized to protect you”.


Stefan Swartling Peterson, chief of health section of UNICEF, declared a paradigm shift: “We need to deliver for clients, not for diseases!” UNICEF procures with half of the worldwide vaccines. It is crucial to respect the perspectives of parents. He invited the audience “to put you in the shoes of parents”. Any health system should meet the needs of the local population. In many countries primary health care centres are urgently needed.


Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus closed the summit with




Everyone should be able to benefit from the power of vaccination.

Despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines, lack of access, vaccine shortages, misinformation, complacency towards disease risks, diminishing public confidence in the value of vaccines and disinvestments are harming vaccination rates worldwide. Vaccination is indisputably one of public health’s most effective interventions. We must endeavour to sustain vaccination’s hard-won gains but also aim to do more and to do better, in view of achieving effective and equitable health systems and reduce the harm that is caused as a result of the illness and suffering that is otherwise preventable. This also includes making the necessary R&D investments to address unmet medical needs by developing new vaccines and improving existing ones.

Lessons from the day and actions needed towards vaccination for all and elimination of vaccine preventable diseases:

  1. Promote global political leadership and commitment to vaccination and build effective collaboration and partnerships -across international, national, regional and local levels with health authorities, health professionals, civil society, communities, scientists, and industry- to protect everyone everywhere through sustained high vaccination coverage rates.
  2. Ensure all countries have national immunisation strategies in place and implemented and strengthen its financial sustainability, in line with progress towards Universal Health Coverage, leaving no one behind.
  3. Build strong surveillance systems for vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly those under global elimination and eradication targets.
  4. Tackle the root-causes of vaccine hesitancy, increasing confidence in vaccination, as well as designing and implementing evidence-based interventions.
  5. Harness the power of digital technologies, so as to strengthen the monitoring of the performance of vaccination programmes.
  6. Sustain research efforts to continuously generate data on the effectiveness and safety of vaccines and impact of vaccination programmes.
  7. Continue efforts and investment, including novel models of funding and incentives, in research, development and innovation for new or improved vaccine and delivery devices.
  8. Mitigate the risks of vaccine shortages through improved vaccine availability monitoring, forecasting, purchasing, delivery and stockpiling systems and collaboration with producers and all participants in the distribution chain to make best use of, or increase existing, manufacturing capacity.
  9. Empower healthcare professionals at all levels as well as the media, to provide effective, transparent and objective information to the public and fight false and misleading information, including by engaging with social media platforms and technological companies.
  10. Align and integrate vaccination in the global health and development agendas, through a renewed Immunisation agenda 2030.

Parents are Power – ERNAPE Conference in Gdansk

ERNAPE, the European Research Network About Parents in Education organised its 12th conference in Gdansk, Poland on 18-20 September 2019 with the title Parent Engagement as Power: Empowering Children, Schools and Societies. Parents International brought not only the voice of parents to the event, but also had the opportunity to present 4 research papers we did with partners in projects on various topics. The highlight of the conference was a keynote presentation by Carmel Borg from Malta on a teacher training programme that enables professionals to work with parents from backgrounds different from their own. You will find below some other highlights of the conference. Parents International was represented by Brigitte Haider, Chair of the Supervisory Board and Eszter Salamon, our Director.

In general we need to mention that

  • in most of the sessions and research the terms parental involvement – parental engagement – parental participation were used indiscriminately without clear definitions. In contrast to Carmel Borg’s approach, parents are only recognised as an object of research, not as partners, social actors, trainers in teacher education or experts in education. One presenter even identified parental involvement as a parenting styles.
  • preparing teachers for home-school-partnerships is either a cross-cutting issue without much emphasis in compulsory teacher education courses or reduced to some token lessons.
  • child’s rights were scarcely taken into consideration in most of the presented studies. In some cases it even seemed they were even neglected in everyday school life. This might be due to the USA-orientation of the network where child rights are not provided and protected by law.
  • a whole school approach including all relevant stakeholders – including the students themselves – in the learning environment of school was not even mentioned once.

Carmel Borg’s presentation highlighted the need for pre-service and also in-service teachers to meet parents from various backgrounds, and presented how their training is supporting these professionals to change their attitudes and methods to accept and tackle parent diversity. The ultimate goal is to engage all in all aspect of education, very much in line with the approach IPA is promoting on open schools. It is also their goal when implementing this programme to sensitise trainee teachers to accept parents as a resource, protagonists in education, contributors and co-investigators when aiming at improving education. This approach is unique in organised, formal teacher education, namely to not talk about, but talk with parents.

The founder and, in a way, reference point of the research network, Joyce Epstein (USA) was talking about harnessing and utilising ‘pent-up’ parent energy, energy accumulated and on the verge of breaking out. Her approach – in line with her partnership framework – was focusing on ways to release it in a way that paves the way towards student success within policies in place, but in the reality of the global learning crisis we should also think of ways to harness this energy for transforming educations institutions, systems and curricula.

An interesting presentation by Judith Suissa (UK) made a review of literature on what is considered good parenting, especially in view of an uncertain future. In her opinion, parenting trends of the near future have shifted focus. While after the 2nd World War parenting advice was primarily on building moral values, the current mainstream is about developing psychological skills such as resilience without moral or ethical considerations. The ultimate goal would obviously be a healthy balance.

Given that the hosting country, Poland is currently under a right-wing, nationalist government and also has a long tradition of non-inclusive attitudes, a number of local speakers presented papers, including research around this topic. The most important messages were that parents wishing to provide quality, inclusive education very much feel alone, while there is no research data on teacher attitudes about inclusion. Sadly, children of mobile parents, returning from other EU countries, having attended schools in Western Europe, are often excluded just like special education needs or disabled children.

Gill Crozier (UK) presented research on minority parents who are very much engaged in their children’s learning and schooling. Her research clearly shows that our approach to mentoring in the Parent’r’us project is highly valid, namely that for minority inclusion teachers need at least as much mentoring and support as parents. Even in the UK, where parental engagement practices are much more developed than in most other countries in Europe, these parents feel they are treated like children, and more often than not they are considered to be troublesome or too pushy.

In Iceland the implementation of GDPR has led to a decrease in the family-school communication, because it was a wide-spread solution to use of social media as communication tool, but general use was reduced due to an awareness raising campaign on private and sensitive data and severe threats of punishment for abuse of these tools for school staff. As an extremety, in some schools, children’s drawings were even removed from the walls, before the school was opened for adults’ lessons in the afternoons/evenings, clearly showing some of the issues around GDPR.

A Polish study on the interest of the state in parental participation in school dealt with the satisfaction of parents with their participation. In the discussion the term satisfaction was identified as not really useful and was suggested to be replaced by expectations. First the diversity of the expectations of parents should be collected and in a second phase then found out how far these expectations are/were met by the school.

We could contribute to some research presented that is still work-in-progress. The host of the next ERNAPE Conference, the University of Groeningen presented research on bullying, but they have not yet considered bullying by teachers, parents or other trusted adults. In an extensive research on the use of a dedicated and centralised e-platform for parent-teacher communication in Finland data protection concerns have not yet been explored while the service provider handles big data. In another presentation on the importance of social skills in institutional caring we managed to identify that there should be a shift from subject training to an extended development of social skills in teacher education, which was highly appreciated by the participants

Probably one of the most interesting discussions of the event was an informal discussion with a member of the ERNAPE Steering Committee. It was somewhat surprising to hear that even a well-known researcher of the parental involvement field believes that leaders of parent organisations have no expertise that entitles them to make professional statements. This reinforced our decision to base our work on research rather than claiming any representativeness.