Right after our first handover Board Meeting (11-12 September), the Board stayed for several more productive days in the city of Brussels, Belgium. On the 15th and 16th of September, on behalf of the Board, I represented the European school students at the 3rd meeting of the Education and Training 2020 (ET2020) Working Group on Schools on the topic of “Continuity and transitions in learner development’.
If you are familiar with the work OBESSU has been doing, you might think “Wait a second, I have heard about this European Commission’s Working Group somewhere”. You would be absolutely right, because this is one of the working groups that European Commission (EC) decided we should not be a part of. Strangely enough, our application was denied. Even though we are not a member of this Working Group, we were not forgotten and the EC invited us as external experts. At the meeting I was sitting in a room together with representatives of ministers from all around Europe and the first thing that came into my mind was “Nothing about us without us”, the famous slogan used to support the idea that no policy should be decided by anyone without the direct participation of members of the group affected by that policy.
We started our first day session with welcome words by Sophie Beernaerts Head of Unit – Schools and educators; multilingualism (EU Commission) and a very useful and interesting presentation by Dr. Paul Downes, member of the European Commission Network of Experts on the Social Aspects of Education and Training (NESET I & II). The title of the presentation was “Developing a School System Governance Framework to Promote Quality for Transitions: Key Issues to Consider for a Differentiated, Holistic Strategy for Transitions”. Even though the name of presentation might sound very long and complex, the presentation was very clear and gave plenty of food for thought to all of the participants of the meeting. Moreover, Dr. Paul Downes gave a brilliant example of how complex transitions within education can be and how they rely solely on the perceptions we all have. Imagine that the school student is a little fish (Dr. Paul named the fish Billy) that is travelling from a polluted part of a river to another. Now the question is: is it the polluted environment that makes him struggle transitioning or is it the fault of the fish that it cannot swim through the pollution? So is the transition the problem or is it the school environment? professor asks. Another powerful message Dr. Paul Downes gave to the audience, which is in line with the OBESSU principles stated in our Political Platform, was the following: “If you want quality and accountability in your educational systems listen to the children what they have to say about your systems”.
Later the day, we started getting into the topic and went deeper into ‘continuities’ and ‘discontinuities’ within national educational systems. Everybody got a chance to map the tension points in learner pathways, as they are navigating through the school system. The following session focused on ensuring equity and inclusiveness. European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education gave a presentation on Inclusive Education. It was very clear that from inclusive education all benefit: the positive educational and social impact of inclusive education is obvious and OBESSU strongly supports this idea that was presented by the Agency in our everyday advocacy work. Special attention was brought onto migrant learners and an interesting idea presented was that we need to challenge the migrant learners and to think that they CAN “make it”, they just come from a different background. If we challenge them on a high level we need to provide a high level support as well. And this is how we can build self-confidence in these students.
The second day of the meeting started with the session on stakeholder engagement in choice and decision-making. Everybody was very glad that representatives of parents and school students were attending the meeting and everybody agreed that all stakeholders have to take part in decision-making. Unfortunately, we register the fact that OBESSU was attending the meeting as external expert and not as part of the Working Group. The phrase “Nothing about us without us” was repeated many times by different participants but if changes are not made at the top levels nothing is going to change in the grassroots either. We are very thankful for the invitation to join this meeting and be actively involved in all of the discussions, but if we want to achieve better results, we believe that school student representatives HAVE to become full-time members of working groups such as ET2020 Working Group on Schools and others.
The meeting ended with further planning of the upcoming Working Group meetings – the next one is going to be in December. All in all, it was important for us to join the meeting and exchange ideas OBESSU stands for and hear that there are many activists that not only believe in the role of students when it comes to transitions and continuity in learners development but they as well work actively that our perspective would always be heard. We are still processing all of the valuable information presented by the guest speakers and we will definitely work on it to adapt the best practises in our advocacy work.
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Written by Rūta Meškauskaitė, OBESSU Board member