The key to Europe’s Future: Education equips citizens to deal with the most pressing challenges of our time, says Dace Melbārde

And that’s why we must integrate Agenda 2030 and life-long learning into the European Education Area, says European Parliament CULT Committee vice-chair
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By Dace Melbarde

Dace Melbarde (LV, ECR) is vice-chair of Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education

04 Oct 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to our educational systems. Wave after wave of lockdown has exposed the lack of preparedness of schools to adapt. Students in many poor and rural regions were particularly impacted as a result of their lack of decent internet access and other challenges.

At the same time, income and other inequalities have continued to grow. Women have taken on more unpaid work than ever before while domestic violence has spiked. The elderly have become ever-more isolated and are simultaneously at a disadvantage in accessing health services. There is a long list of other problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

“It is vital that children learn literacy and math skills, that young adults have the opportunity to learn a trade or continue on to university and, indeed, that our senior citizens can acquire digital competencies”

The current situation suggests that empowering citizens to navigate the complexities of global challenges is urgent. Access to the knowledge and skills that enable us to be resilient in the face of uncertainty is of vital importance. It is vital that children learn literacy and maths skills, that young adults have the opportunity to learn a trade or continue on to university and, indeed, that our senior citizens can acquire digital competencies. 

At the same time, however, education should also benefit our societies in the face of major issues such as human rights, global justice, climate change and gender equality.

We cannot afford to wait for today’s youth to grow up and save us all from climate change and other global challenges. That is why we need to think beyond the context of traditional education in schools and instead structure it through the framework of life-long learning, as a process that happens wherever people are.

This means teaching citizens throughout their lives to navigate their societies in the face of major issues that impact our daily freedom, peace and quality of life. 

The European Education Area is an ambitious and timely initiative that seeks answers to address these complex matters. It aims to improve the quality and accessibility of education throughout the EU, encompassing the importance of building up the skills capacity of EU citizens.

The challenge for the European Education Area is to strike the correct balance between diverse individual and cultural needs while simultaneously equipping people with the tools they need to deal with an ever-changing world.

Multistakeholder and co-creation approaches to our educational policymaking are key. We all need to play our part in turning ambitious visions into holistic action.

Pupils and teachers, informal education and training providers as well as the public and private sectors should be included in developing and providing education and training taking place in all settings and catering to all ages and needs.

At the same time, EU Member States need to mainstream the ambitions of the European Education Area into all areas of education, training and learning while also supporting the objectives with adequate educational budgets. 

“We need to think beyond the context of traditional education in schools and instead structure it through the framework of life-long learning, as a process that happens wherever people are”

We are at the start of the so-called Decade of Action to make the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals a reality. This offers the EU a window of opportunity to reinforce the fundamental function of education as one of the main pillars supporting the realisation of societies that rely on fairness and solidarity for the entire global community and our planet.

Aligning the European Education Area with Agenda 2030, and particularly Target 4.7, which addresses the role of education in advancing sustainability, global citizenship, gender equality, human rights among others, should not be merely optional.

Integrating skills and competencies linked to Target 4.7 in the educational strategy of the EU is fundamental to inspiring active global citizenship capable of successfully tackling the various challenges we face today. 

It is crucial to safeguard the right of all learners to acquire the necessary skills and competencies, which in turn will be an invaluable investment not simply for their future but also for society as a whole. With the appropriate level of ambition, matched by adequate investment, this is achievable. It is now high time to act.

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