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Brussels, 3 July 2008

What should our schools be like in the 21st Century?

The European Commission wants Member States to cooperate better in order to make school systems more relevant to pupils' and employers’ needs in the knowledge-based Europe of the future. The Commission Communication "Improving Competences for the 21st Century: An Agenda for European Cooperation on Schools", presented today, says that change, sometimes radical, will be needed if Europe’s schools are to equip young people fully for life in this century.

The Commission proposes an agenda for cooperation, in three areas:

  • A focus on giving all pupils the competences they need for life. This includes: increasing levels of reading literacy and numeracy; reinforcing learning-to-learn skills; and modernising curricula, learning materials, teacher training, and assessment accordingly;
  • A commitment to provide high quality learning for every student. This includes: generalising pre-school education; improving equity in school systems; reducing early school leaving; and improving support within mainstream schooling for students with special needs; and
  • Improving the quality of teachers and school staff. This includes: more and higher quality teacher education; more effective teacher recruitment; and help for school leaders to focus on improving learning.

School education is increasingly acknowledged as a key area for improvement if Member States are to meet the goals under the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs. But progress towards their benchmarks on improving reading literacy, reducing early school leaving and improving school participation has been disappointing.

Our school systems must adapt if they are to provide young people with new skills for new jobs” said Commissioner Ján Figel’, “because we need to prepare our young people for jobs that may not even exist yet. What’s more,” he added, “how well pupils do in school has a real impact on the opportunities they get later in life, so we need to even out some of the inequalities in order to make our school systems more efficient and effective. We are encouraging Member States to work together on this.

One way for school systems to tackle disadvantage is to improve access to pre-primary education. There is also a need to make sure that schools are succeeding in teaching young people the basics. Currently 24.1% of young people (17.6% of girls; 30.4% of boys) are classed as low-achievers in reading literacy. A more individualised approach to learning and a more creative use of assessment could help with this. The Commission proposes improving the quality of school education through more school self-evaluation and through better quality training for school staff.

The Communication forms part of President Barroso’s package of measures to reinforce Access, Opportunities and Solidarity among all EU citizens, which was adopted on 2 July 2008 (IP/08/1070).

The Communication is supported by a Staff Working Paper which sets out the latest research evidence and statistics, as well as a summary of the responses to the Public Consultation ‘Schools for the 21st century’.

Member States already work together to share good policy practice in a number of aspects of education and training under the Education and Training 2010 programme.

To know more:

MEMO/08/476, "Improving Competences for the 21st Century: An Agenda for European Cooperation on Schools – FAQ".

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