On November 30th, 2023, the 6th European Education Summit convened in Brussels, Belgium, gathering a diverse range of educational stakeholders, including Ministries, European Commissioners, NGOs and many more.
As the only union representing upper secondary students on a European plan, we were pleased to receive the invitation. Often times, events like this summit are when we have the opportunity to engage in discussions about educational systems, sharing implementations, future plans, and gathering insights from each stakeholder, including teachers, learners, and administrators.
Unfortunately, our expectations were only met with disappointment. The event primarily featured disconnected discussions from institutional representatives, with speeches about education lacking concrete projects, proposals, objectives, or expected outcomes. The vast majority of speakers were not working with education on a practical level, and therefore sadly could not give a multifaceted answer to many of the questions proposed to the panel. Civil society organisations, teachers, and students were only able to contribute to the discussions by intervening from the audience.
As student representatives, we often experience ourselves and young people tokenized. For most events, there will be just one young person there, chosen to speak on behalf of us all. To enhance democracy and representation in the public debate, not only the invitations–but also speaking spots to events like the Education Summit must be given to elected, democratic representatives that have the capability and mandate to speak on behalf of a collective of people in society. We are elected officials who voice the concerns of our peers, from schools to regional and national level. Our perspectives deserve as much consideration as those of a headmaster, a minister, or an MEP.
We are concerned about decisions being made about our public education service without considering our opinions, from studying conditions in classrooms to national austerity policies affecting budgets. It has been shown time and time again that including students at the decision-making table simply benefits the outcome and the future–for all. We are the ones that are affected when these policies are made, we feel them in every classroom, in every teacher that again has to learn a new curriculum without any training provided and with every student that does not feel they receive the quality education that we are all fighting for.
If we truly want to transform education systems, we must consider every single piece that completes the puzzle of education. Students are one of–if not the biggest piece there is.
OBESSU firmly asserts: Nothing about us, without us!
During the education summit, we learned many things on different topics. We are always happy to listen to different perspectives on education and use this in our daily advocacy work. We were just not given the opportunity to also share experiences from our side of the story.
There were many topics on which we could have shared our perspective and expertise, and we didn’t find the settings for this common exchange to happen. We truly think of school students as learners and users of the public service of education, and therefore our place should be at the decision-making and at the policymaking table. Therefore, it concerns us that we still are at the level of advocating for the concept of including us, instead of having the space to actually advocate for concrete policy changes that we want to see.
OBESSU and its constituency have always and will continue to be open to constructive discussions, and open dialogue on how to improve our education system. However, for meaningful progress to occur, those in the decision-making power position must fundamentally reconsider their approach to our inclusion and our role in shaping education. We truly hope to see improvements in this sense at the next European Education Summit, and we always remain reachable to exchange about such matters.
Let us all approach 2024 with a focus on inclusion of everyone in the education sector. We are not able to fight for progression and truly transform education if we do not all listen and learn from each other.
Written by: Nathan Weber