EPA’s endorsement of the New Education Forum’s Smart Education Indicators

The Centre for Innovative Education invited EPA to participate at this year's New Education Forum. Janko Korosec and Claudio Masotti, EPA's Vice Presidents participated at their regional events during the year. The New Education Forum published  Smart Education Indicators closely linked with the UNESCO Smart Cities initiatinve at its closing event in the European Parliament on 22/23 November 2017. Before publication they asked EPA for an endorsement of the indicators that you can read below.

In 2015, celebrating 30 years of being the sole representative of parents in Europe, the European Parents’ Association (EPA) reviewed its policy and activities to formulate a list of necessary measures in order to provide our children with an upbringing that ensures that they become responsible 21st century European citizens and reach their full potential for a happy and fulfilling life. According to the EPA Manifesto 2015 this requires that the EU and national governments provide equitable (and not equal) and inclusive opportunities in education for children and their parents. The review has been done on the basis of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and calls for measures especially in the fields of creating a 21st century education system, active citizenship and participation, digital literacy, supporting and endorsing parenting and parenting skills, and balancing work and family life.

The indicators developed by New Education Forum (NEF) fully resonate with the demands parents have formulated recently and address the issues that concern responsible parents all over Europe. The approach that emphasises the important role the EU and its institutions must play in the major paradigm shift towards an education that can give answers to major demands of the 21st century and help fundamentally reforming outdated education systems resonates with concerned parents all over Europe. A joint effort to revamp our provisions for the future of Europe, our children, could help rebuild trust in the European project. At the same time the EU is not rich enough to finance the long-term consequences of school systems that do not have solutions, thus creating environmental and health problems, unemployment, lack of participation in society and growth of extremism. We also need to support non-EU countries in their efforts to provide a desirable future to children. It is crucial for a sustainable future that people can see there is a future for them and their children, also where they were born – be it anywhere in the EU or outside - and a decision for migration should not be for sheer survival, but based on a real choice.

At the same time there is a general belief that decisions are best made as close to the people, children as possible, so we fully support subsidiarity and the focus on municipality level to carry out universally agreed goals involving all major stakeholders, in the case of education first of all children, their parents and professional educators. When designing and implementing new education, policy makers not only need to stick to the principle of ‘’nothing about them without them’ in the case of children, but also to ‘nothing about us, parents, and our children without us’ acknowledging that the primary responsibility for educating children is with the parents – as stated in the UNCRC, a piece of legislation ratified by all EU countries.

1.       Learning within sustainable environment
It is very important to start introducing this topic in early childhood education, but starting in formal provisions is too little too late. Education for sustainability should start as early as possible. It is crucial to empower families, especially young parents, in order to introduce environmentally conscious home practices. Early education done by the parents in the first 1-3 life-years is absolutely crucial, so there is a need to focus on this age group, too, making all professionals working with young families (paediatricians, district nurses, social workers, etc.) aware of their role and responsibility in it.

2.       Active citizenship and inclusion
Active citizenship starts at home in early childhood with the introduction of participatory parenting practices. For this, parents need support and training. As many parents and teachers come from a different culture, we also need to make kindergarten/school the training ground for participatory democracy, where children, teachers and parents learn this practice together, having responsibilities for their decisions, but in an ultimate safe environment where wrong decisions have no grave consequences, but you experience the downside of opting out. Implementing a whole school approach, highlighted by EC policy messages in 2016 is the best to-date to involve stakeholders, helping them to take ownership of the school and of their own learning. It also requires schools to become community learning spaces where the whole local community can learn and also educate nearly 24/7.
Children deserve to get childhood back, and thus playful approaches are very much welcome. It is also the best basis for lifelong learning, playfulness helps it become second nature as it makes learning enjoyable and satisfactory. Learning best happens in the state of flow research shows, and it happens in the case of the right mix of challenge and joy.
Inclusion in education is necessary for cradle-to-grave lifelong learning to become natural in Europe. A good tool to evaluate the inclusiveness of institutions against another set of indicators is the Index of Inclusion developed this year by NESET.

3.       Development of potential
Education, a joint effort of the home, the community, non-formal providers and formal education, should aim at every child to reach their full potential. For this, there is a need to fundamentally reform curricula, to make them focus on skills rather than academic content. It is the joint responsibility of professional educators, policy makers and parents’ organisations to help parents understand why it is in the best interest of their children.
There is a need to introduce an equitable approach to education and ensure that every child and also adults have access to provisions best for that individual. Access should never be restricted by financial constraints, so there is a need for adequate funding for all forms of education – be it formal or informal, state, church or private – according to the joint choice of children and parents. This is the only way to provide children with the right education for them – a basic right ensured by the UNCRC.
This also means the need to introduce a holistic approach to education, ending subject and segregation, for all learning to be endorsed and validated, and for schemes that acknowledge learning outside of school, especially education at home by the parents.

4.       Vocational education and training
Policy makers and educators – both professionals and parents – need to make efforts to change the public opinion on vocational education in order to stop seeing it as a second choice and making VET pathways an equal choice to academic pathways. This should be the choice of at least 2/3 of the population and they must feel themselves first class citizens.
At the same time all stakeholders are also responsible for ensuring vocational pathways to provide skills development, up-to-date professional knowledge and fosters aptitude for learning throughout life. Career guidance and vocational education need to promote entrepreneurial spirit and new forms of employment. This is also crucial to ensure current and future parents can balance work and family life better.

5.       Up-to-date skills
Policy makers, professionals and parents need to work together to move away from a culture of standardised testing and towards a focus on developing skills, especially transversal ones. Embracing and exploiting digital opportunities as well as introducing digital practices as early as possible should be part of it. Children and adults need to learn to safely navigate in the digital world and we should stop believing that it is possible to create some kind of safe parallel digital highway for minors.
Up-to-date skills also mean there is a need for up-to-date validation, certification and acknowledgement of skills regardless of the settings they had been acquired at – be them formal, non-formal or informal.

6.       Broad cooperation
Inclusion of ALL parents and ALL children as well as all professionals in reforming education and operating the revamped systems is crucial for success. But it cannot happen without investing in empowering each stakeholder group for this role, and developing skills, especially for democratic participation, taking responsibility and managing challenges. Different stakeholder groups also need to learn to acknowledge and appreciate other stakeholders. This can only happen if we can make sure everybody is included, appreciated and thus participate.

Smart indicators should be implemented in a smart way, implementing specific SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) goals. The European Parents’ Association is ready to be a partner in it.

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