Focus On: What skills do Europeans need?
“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill” Wilbur Wright
Education is an all-encompassing activity that should be articulated through many different goals and objectives. In the 1980s the Delors Commission already formulated this idea by identifying four education pillars, namely those of learning to know, to do, to be and to live together. These different but related missions of our education systems strive to enhance the abilities, possibilities and the human development of citizens at various stages of their lives.
One key aspect of this is building an education system that can provide everyone with the right set of skills for the job market. Developing new skills for a changing labour market is increasingly becoming a priority in Europe and across the world. According to McKinsey, “nearly nine in ten executives and managers say their organizations either face skills gaps already or expect gaps to develop within the next five years”. This situation is of course exacerbated by the speed of transition that we witness in global society. For example, the emerging artificial intelligence (AI) sector is particularly exposed, with Europe lagging behind China and the U.S. in its ability to attract talent in this field and capitalize on the opportunities provided by it.
The skills gap – the difference between the skills that employers want and those that actual or potential employees possess - is related to the digital divide. However there are a number of sometimes conflicting challenges to address. Indeed, while closing the divide is a key driver of inclusion and cohesion at European level, promoting high- and deep-tech industries as the frontrunners of a new European economy risks leaving behind those without the matching skillset. Finding the right balance between championing tech innovation, while also ensuring the continued development of other sectors and making sure everyone can reap the benefits requires important investments in upskilling, together with a profound re-think of the educational infrastructure in EU countries.
The Eurydice Network has been busy reporting on some of the trends across Europe in this field. Signaling the importance of education in a lifelong learning perspective, last year’s study on Adult education and training in Europe investigated current approaches to promoting lifelong learning, with a particular emphasis on policies and measures supporting adults with low levels of skills and qualifications to access learning opportunities. The situation is not ideal, as one in five adults in the EU have not completed upper secondary education. As the report moreover found, low-qualified adults participate less in education and training than those with higher levels of educational attainment. There is therefore still work to be done in this area.
More recently, the focus has been on schools, and how they are preparing the new generations with the right set of skills for this age. From the Eurydice report on mathematics and science education in schools, a mixed picture emerges where the teaching of science is lagging behind that of mathematics. At the same time, the project’s research found that integrating socio-scientific questions into the curriculum boosts students’ achievement.
Similarly, Eurydice has also delivered a study on computer science at school, which finds that, in 23 European countries, primary school students already attend a separate informatics class. Meanwhile, two thirds of countries are aiming at introducing reforms to boost the presence of informatics on the curriculum.
All of this should not cloud the importance of equity and equality of opportunity, which is a fundamental prerequisite of a fair society. Eurydice has tackled this issue in a series of reports dedicated to school and higher education, looking at the way countries tackle disparities and foster inclusion throughout the education system.
2023 has been declared the European Year of Skills, and it is crucial to involve all stakeholders in this push for a fairer and more effective strategy. By mapping and tracking a variety of approaches around Europe, the Eurydice Network has demonstrated the need for a closer and more innovative integration between skills, training and education at all levels. Cooperation and cross-fertilisation of ideas and approaches among education institutions, and public authorities at both national and European levels will play an increasingly important role in successfully responding to the big shifts that society is currently going through.
Authors: Niccolò Fantini and David Crosier