It has been said many times that education is the silver bullet – it increases social mobility and makes the entire economy more competitive. European education systems currently lead the world, in 2006 86.8% of European school children received pre-primary education, compared to just 58.2% in the United States and public spending on education as a percentage of GDP was 5.03 for the EU, compared to 4.85 for the US and 3.52 for Japan. Despite this, one in five European 15 year olds lack basic reading and writing skills, and the Commission has recognised that digital literacy must be improved for Europe to move to its stated goal of a “knowledge economy”.
A Europe that improves educational opportunities for all will be stronger and more united. Education is a fundamental requirement for real citizenship and for participation in society as general education levels increase. Currently, too many families and children are left behind without the freedom that education bestows. At Stronger Europe we believe that there are a few fundamental things that Europe could do to increase education levels, and therefore the competitiveness and strength of our economy.
To start with Europe should publish education courses – across all school and adult learning years or “from the cradle to the grave”, online in the languages of the European Union. This European e-academy would for the first time in human history result in a truly open learning platform. Individuals would have almost unlimited access to any educational resource they wanted for free. This is not intended to replace normal schooling, but would be able to complement it and give children and adults access to quality learning materials regardless of the quality of their local school or their family income. Aspreviously suggested, the e-academy should include business education resources (such as basic accountancy and marketing principles) to improve the link between education and business. This would simply make it much easier for those in education across Europe to move straight into an enterprise and entrepreneurship.
In addition, Europe must make priority areas of study – science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) more appealing to young people. These subjects truly drive the cutting edge of our economy, and are unfortunately declining in popularity a trend that must be reversed through increased availability of scholarships for those subjects and by engaging children at an early age in science. One way to do this would be to increase funding to the European Space Agency (ESA) and allow it to do more outreach programmes in an effort to capture the imagination of young people across the continent in the same way that NASA has in the United States.
Finally, digital literacy and access to broadband would have to be increased, and, as mentioned, the European Commission is currently working towards this. We believe that computer science should be taught to European children from an early age, and access for adults to learn should be increased. It teaches logic and provides the skills needed for Europe’s digital economy to grow.
Our proposals to improve education in Europe are:
- The creation of a European e-academy of online, free, educational resources and classes to revolutionise the way people learn and to dramatically increase access to quality learning materials
- Teach computer science in classrooms with children learning about the technology that shapes our economy and society from an early age
- Improve the link between businesses and education with free business classes being available online at the e-academy and lifelong training available for people currently in employment
- Increase the number of students entering STEM subjects by increasing scholarships and funding organisations like the ESA to improve their outreach programmes
What do you think?