Pedro Mendes is a Portuguese Master of Science in Engineering Physics. Prior to joining the College of Europe in Natolin, he worked as an Intellectual Property Protection Analyst in the Netherlands, where
he lived for almost two years. He is also a European Climate Pact ambassador and candidate from LIVRE, the Portuguese Green Left party, to the 2019 parliamentary elections.
If we want to build a European demos based on the values of the European project and common memory,
it is essential to standardise our educational system – to create a form of permanence in a fast paced world. This piece aims to advocate for a joint European school curriculum, as well as the standardization of a subject on Education for Citizenship at the European level, in hopes that future generations will be more informed and better prepared for the challenges of the XXIst century.
We often hear that “what we learn in school is not really useful in real life". This expression refers not only to the content of the courses, but also to the assessment methods, often very different throughout the continent. This happens because the system of equivalences between faculties is not completely efficient and often creates unnecessary obstacles for students. This is mainly due to differences between ECTS as well as the miscommunication around scholarly traditions in universities.
Harmonisation, a key feature of the European dream
The Bologna Process laid the foundational stone for a united European educational system in 1999. Even though it created the ECTS framework and allowed more mobility for students, which is often seen as a positive factor in the CVs of younger professionals, it has arguably failed to deliver as much and as well as it set out to. For instance, 22 years after the signing of the Bologna declaration, the number of years of a Bachelor degree still differs within the Union.
A standardisation of educational systems will make it possible for every young adult to enter higher education at the same age in all countries. Currently, in Italy for instance, pupils start one year later than in Portugal or Spain. By basing ourselves on the German, North-American (both federative), and portuguese systems we might be able to build a model that gives justice to a common European heritage while equipping future generations with the necessary knowledge for their development and careers. Such a model would help change Europe forever.
A four-phase model
The structure of the future European Educational System (E2S) would consist of four phases. It is worth mentioning, however, that while the curriculum would be standardised, this would in no way be an attempt
to muffle rich and diverse cultural traditions; in each country, students would still learn about their national history, literature, etc. The courses may be the same, but their content is still tailored to particular domestic realities. In kindergarten (3-6 years old), kids are not exposed to the national curriculum, only to compulsory subjects. At the end of this education cycle, students are selected to go, according to their skills and motivations, to one of three different types of schools, following the example of the German system: 1) a secondary education preparing them for an eventual entrance in university, 2) a polytechnical school or 3) a third alternative where after the 9th grade students join a vocational school.
Parents often argue that these choices limit the horizons of students, since they “put kids in a box too early”, while also fostering competition among them at an early stage in life. Even though some categories
might narrow down the employment opportunities students will be eligible for later in their lives, they also allow children to move towards more creative pathways. Early specialisation has the benefit of speeding up learning that is relevant to real-life jobs. Moreover, in the E2S, students still get two years to change course and are also supported in the choices they make by psychotechnical tests. This mobility and potential to change further on is important since this is the phase of the development of a human being where opinions, tastes and convictions are prone to change. In intermediate education (analogous to the concept of middle school), each pathway is modelled according to the specialisation of students, allowing them to pursue the subjects they are interested in more depth while reducing the complexity of others that do not support their specialty. With this, we are allowing students not to be forced to study subjects they are not that interested in earlier than in most current systems, which will foster an earlier specialisation in particular disciplines. The last cycle, secondary education, would be about deepening the knowledge acquired in the previous one.
Designing a subject for the citizens of the future
As the concept of European citizenship has already been established since the Treaty of Maastricht (almost 30 years ago), a subject on EC would allow the development of (future) European citizens according to a framework of values that should be common to the whole Union, thus living up to its name.
The sense of belonging to the European project, however, hardly comes just from unifying the educational system. This is why an Education for Citizenship (EC) subject is necessary. If EC were to take place by the end of the second and third educational cycles and during every grade of secondary education, students would have an opportunity to debate ideas that would help them grow as European citizens.
Through multicultural, political, religious, ethical, and transversal training, EC would strengthen the relationship between student and citizen with exposure to democratic and federal values. Moreover, Education for Citizenship aims not to be an end in itself, but instead a means contributing to the training of European citizens in a European Union and a federalist European area. It is through Education that we achieve the permanence of EU values, but also that we transform our society and the leaders of tomorrow.