European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Tackling early school leaving
European Parliament Conference "Integration of young people excluded by early school leaving & unemployment" / Brussels
7 March 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start my intervention today with a story that was reported to me some time ago in Brussels. These are the words of a 7-year old girl who was born in Pakistan and is a pupil in a primary school near Rond-Point Schuman. One day, she said to a voluntary worker, helping her with her homework: "I would like so much to have higher school marks, but I have to do my homework in the kitchen: this is also the place where I sleep and where my mother is cooking – because the only other room we have is where my parents are sleeping and watching TV".
Probably some words will jump immediately to your mind: decent housing, migrants, school segregation. Let me take this opportunity to recall a few figures:
26% of the migrant population in Europe are early-school leavers (against 13% of the non-migrant population). Early school leaving has also a strong gender dimension, as men are more affected than women. And too few children with a working class background are able to pass secondary school exams, as many school systems tend to reinforce inequality, instead of reducing social inequalities.
As part of the Europe 2020 strategy we have agreed that not more than 10% of our youngsters should be allowed to leave secondary school without a proper diploma. Because the danger we face is the following – and let me put it blankly: every child that doesn't become a future taxpayer will potentially have to be supported by our welfare state.
Very few studies have calculated the costs of early school living, and these figures have to be treated with caution. A study for Finland, for example, estimated the economic cost at 1 million euros per person over the course of his/her adult life. And beyond economic costs, everybody knows there are social costs as well: impact on social cohesion or criminality.
Member States are making slow progress towards achieving the Europe 2020 target on early school leaving. If current trends continue, the 10% target will not be met. We cannot afford this.
But what can we do about it?
There is a broad consensus among experts and policymakers that access to early childhood education and care is an effective policy instrument to reduce early school leaving.
Here I would like to pay a compliment to my colleague Commissioner Vassiliou who, already in 2011, presented a special Communication on this topic.
I am happy to concede that I have followed her lead when we developed the Social Investment Package and in particular the Recommendation on “Investing in Children”. This Recommendation pleads for a much stronger social investment focus on quality early childhood education and care. This is in our view a sine qua non for creating a sustainable, efficient and competitive knowledge economy and for making a society that ensures fairness between generations.
The adequacy of our future pensions depends on the human capital investment of those who are today our children. Without the necessary investment in their upbringing and education, many children will, as adults, not be able to live up to their full potential - which may jeopardise the prosperity of the next generations. This is why, under our Europe 2020 strategy, our Education and Training target is to increase the share of children participating in pre-primary education to at least 95% of children in 2020.
I also very much welcome that policymakers have reacted very fast on our initiative for a Youth Guarantee: at the end of February, the Member States agreed on a Council Recommendation to establish Youth Guarantee schemes.
These schemes should ensure that all young people up to 25 years of age receive a quality offer of a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.
The Recommendation includes three recommendations on early intervention and activation.
Member States have committed themselves to develop effective outreach strategies towards young people; to personalised guidance and individual support schemes; to establish focal points; to prevent drop-out of a measure, and to ensure progression towards educational attainment or employment.
The Recommendation pays particular attention to early school-leavers and low-skilled young people: They should be offered particular pathways to re-enter education and training or second-chance education programmes.
You may rightly ask whether Member States with serious budgetary constraints will be able to implement such a Youth Guarantee.
In the context let me recall that the costs of funding Youth Guarantee schemes are much lower than inaction. Do you know that the economic costs of having 14 million young people (15-29) neither in employment, nor in education or in training are estimated to be the equivalent of 1.21 % of EU GDP, i.e. an annual loss of €153 billion for the Member States?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Youth Guarantee is an investment. Investing in young people's employability is vital in order to preserve our growth potential. The Youth Guarantee will generate positive returns in terms of improving Member States' economic situation in the long run.
Obviously, European funding will be made available to complement national resources. The February European Council decided to support the implementation of a Youth Guarantee with earmarked funding of 6 billion euros in a dedicated Youth Employment Initiative as part of the next Multiannual Financial Framework. In addition to this, there will be a targeted investment priority in the future ESF.
This conference is very timely: we need to monitor closely what works best and what doesn't, and learn from each other's experiences among European countries.
I thank the P&V Foundation for their commitment to this area, and I congratulate the laureates of the prize for research on integration of young people excluded by early school leaving and unemployment.
Thank you for your attention.