Doris Pack: ‘Paper does not blush’

29 July 2011

Doris Pack (CDU) is a member of the European Parliament (EP) since 1989. She holds amongst other positions in European and German politics, the chair of the Committee for Culture and Education (CULT).

Neth-ER: When taking education into account, what developments over the past years are most worrisome and most promising to you?

Pack: To start with some good news: I am highly pleased about the success of all the programmes on education which have been established: This applies to the long standing ones as Erasmus as well as to the newer programmes created in the last decade. Taken as a whole, we can say that all the components of the Lifelong Learning Programme can be considered as flagship initiatives of the European Union.Unfortunately, there are also some problems which we have not been able to solve so far. One of the main challenges we have to meet is early school leaving. Today, one in seven young Europeans is classified as an early school leaver. It is a complex problem typically caused by a cumulative process of disengagement and not by a sudden decision. Comparing the situation in the EU’s member states, we can see two things: Firstly, there are huge differences among them. Secondly, there are many excellent examples of preventive policies - some proven success factors even do not cost much money. These best practices should be taken into account when this problem is tackled at national level.The Committee will furthermore pay much attention to early school leaving and is urging other political institutions and actors - especially the member states - to internalise the importance of early and widespread intervention.

Neth-ER: In what way do the flagships Youth on the Move and An agenda for new skills and jobs provide an impetus for education in general and young people in particular?

Pack: Youth on the Move has a rich agenda ranging from new legislative initiatives to concrete recommendations addressed at member states. To my mind, the most useful component of Youth on the Move is the fact that it offers better information tools for young people. It provides an overview about all the options for actions for young people who are interested in mobility and in widening their experience of other cultures and languages.  Offering a wide range of information, Youth on the move is trying to link the different - and so far regrettably too unconnected - tools and programmes on education.The Agenda for new skills and jobs includes a lot of reasonable and appropriate proposals but  it is more related to employment politics in a narrow sense than to education even if both policies are naturally connected.   The Committee on Culture and Education has approved the Agenda. But to put it bluntly: Paper does not blush. To my mind, it is mainly our programmes within the Lifelong Learning Programme which are of practical use and of utmost importance. They should remain the core of the EU’s policy as they can contribute more to education and mobility than any abstract paper or euphonic strategy. In the end, it is thus about sufficient financial resources for education – at national and at European level.

Neth-ER: Are you in favour of a European Primary and Secondary Education Area?

Pack: No, I am not. First of all, there is no original responsibility of the European Union for educational policy according to the Treaty. And to my mind, this is absolutely reasonable: A one-size-fits-all approach to education does not suit the diverse situation in different countries. As there are so many traditional differences among the member states, it would not make sense or partly even worsen the situation if we tried to harmonize this sector by creating one single European Primary and Secondary Education Area.Nevertheless, we can contribute a lot at European level to achieve improvements.: We are permanently bringing forward the exchange of views and policies within the EU and to encourage the member states to make use of so called "best practices" being worth adopting. In addition, we should extend bilingual cooperation at secondary level, for instance by creating joint school leaving certificates such as the Abi-Bac at some German and French schools.

Neth-ER: How can e-learning in your opinion, simultaneously support language skills and mobility?

Pack: Let me start with a general statement. I am convinced that our ambition should be the following: Apart from having excellent mother tongue skills, which is not self-evident today concerning text comprehension and articulateness, we should aim at learning one of the neighbouring countries' languages as well as English as lingua franca.  As far as the relationship between e-learning, language skills and mobility is concerned, there is an excellent example within the framework of the Lifelong Learning Programme, namely eTwinning as part of the Comenius Programme. It can help schools to link and work with other schools across Europe by the use of information and communication technology.  Making use of eTwinning, partner schools work on a common project in a virtual classroom. Participation is for free and possible for every type of school, school subject and age group. Teachers are backed up by an advisory service, training sessions and educational resources.To sum up, this combination offers great opportunities: Young people interact with pupils from other countries and gain intercultural experiences and skills.

Neth-ER: What role should the knowledge triangle (education, research and innovation) play in achieving a superior knowledge economy in 2020?

Pack: A significant one! On the one hand, the fast-changing working environment, the knowledge-based economy and the accelerating pace of technological development pose challenges for European higher education and research.  But on the other hand, all these developments offer new opportunities. Hence, it is of the utmost importance to pursue quality partnerships in higher education and business. Cooperation between education and business at local, regional, national and transnational level is considered by the European Parliament as an effective tool to bridge the gap between the education sector and the working environment. Partnerships between education and training institutions and employers play an important role in enhancing the learners’ employability, entrepreneurial potential and familiarity with the working world.Bearing in mind this need for better business-university links, the Parliament has called for improvements in the performance of European universities through the implementation of the knowledge triangle's principle. In this context, the Commission’s communication and the areas on which it proposed to focus future cooperation have been welcomed by the European Parliament. We have also endorsed the view that cooperation between business and higher educations institutions should remain a priority for the near future. To make a long story short, we share most of the perceptions and ambitions of the European Commission. We have also stressed the importance of providing opportunities to undertake work placements in companies as part of the curriculum. In this field, there are many possibilities to strengthen the cooperation between universities and the economy.

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