The Council of the European Union is chaired by Estonia in the second semester of 2017. Several events in the field of youth and education policy are being held in the Estonian capital - Tallinn. Together with policy makers and other civil society representatives, OBESSU was invited to attend the flagship conference on education held at the University of Tallinn.
Estonia is among leading countries in Europe in terms of innovation in education with a lot of efforts being done to digitalise education. Therefore, the Estonian Presidency chose to highlight innovative approaches in the quest for a better education.
Last August the General Assembly of OBESSU approved the policy paper ‘Innovative School Methods: The School Students’ Perspective’, which functioned as a solid backbone for our participation in the conference. Over 30 school students gathered in November 2016 to discuss, exchange and reflect on innovation in education, which resulted in the mentioned Policy Paper. School students welcome the efforts of policy makers to innovate education, but not without doubt. Innovation cannot be an aim in itself and the inclusion of all school students is paramount. With the policy paper and these thoughts in mind our Board Member Ferre Windey represented the voice of European school students in Tallinn.
The conference brought together many perspectives on innovative approaches. Many key note speeches were delivered on a broad variety of topics, ranging from pedagogical and neuroscientific research results to best practices in schools and countries. Particularly interesting was the site visit to the Tallinn Polytechnics School, a rewarded Vocational Education and Training institute in Estonia. One of the discussion topics at the Polytechnics School was the involvement of students in international projects and activities. It was enlightening to hear about the empowering experiences of Estonian VET students abroad and how they were acquiring soft skills while working on their technical skills.
The last day of the conference was focused around a panel discussion with representatives from civil society. Association of small businesses, the teachers’ trade unions, the association of history and citizenship education teachers and the association of school leaders in Europe were represented. The voice of students was represented by Caroline Sundberg, the vice-president of the European Students’ Union (ESU) together with Ferre Windey, OBESSU Board Member.
The main question for the panel was whether there is a clear vision among civil society and policy makers for the future of education in Europe and whether that vision is able to face the challenges of tomorrow.
The main concern raised by OBESSU was the fact that policy makers are still not courageous enough to make learner centered education a reality. Many stakeholders within the European educational community seem to like mentioning the concept but only few understand the actual meaning of it. Education is still serving many other purposes instead of its core task: delivering opportunities for life to its students. Very often the idea of learner centered education is translated into a far going liberalisation of education where students are left to their fate. Learner centered education means taking care of every individual, supporting them every step of the way, rather than expecting more from students without support in return.
OBESSU is happy to see that the voice of school students has been recognised as vital in the discussion and we hope that our concerns are taken into account. Innovation will be successful only when students are willing to go with it.
Written by Ferre Windey, OBESSU Board member