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EU education ministers respond to the pandemic with blended learning

Met dank overgenomen van Sloveens voorzitterschap Europese Unie 2e helft 2021, gepubliceerd op maandag 29 november 2021.

At a Council meeting chaired by the Minister of Education, Science and Sport Simona Kustec, education ministers adopted recommendations on blended learning to respond to the pandemic and identify measures to make education systems more resilient.

With a new resolution on the European Strategy for Adult Learning 2030, ministers set the foundations for a more effective, inclusive and just Europe of the future, while the adopted strategic framework will be the basis for the European Education Area. The day started with a youth breakfast and in the afternoon, as part of their work addressing issues affecting young people, ministers adopted conclusions on civic spaces with the clear aim of promoting the active participation of young people. In this context, the Slovenian Presidency is committed to adopting a legislative basis for the European Year of Youth.

The adopted recommendations on blended learning are a tangible response to the pandemic that has radically affected the world of education. We have learnt a great deal from this experience, which is why our recommendations incorporate lessons learnt to date and the clear position of experts, as well as identifying new and different ways of teaching. The latter will complement and build on traditional ways of teaching - from outdoor learning to digital teaching. In this way, under the right conditions, blended learning can deliver both high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education.

Simona Kustec Minister of Education, Science and Sport

In the recommendations on blended learning, ministers identified short-term actions as an immediate response to the crisis and several long-term actions aimed at strengthening education systems for a resilient and effective Europe of the future. Minister Kustec said: "The actions have been designed based on the expertise that has provided us with key insights and perspectives at key thematic conferences. Participants also included education professionals, teachers, head teachers, pupils and students." At its outset, the Slovenian Presidency held a thematic conference on blended learning, at which more than 75 excellent practices from different member states were presented, with a focus on outdoor learning. Furthermore, these actions are a response to all the challenges identified at the Presidency's main conference on the school of the future in November. At that time, professionals sent a clear message that digital knowledge, competences and skills were essential but need to be properly incorporated into education systems.

It was digital education in the context of the structured dialogue that was at the heart of the ministerial debate, with ministers pointing not only to the opportunities it creates, but also to the need to put in place appropriate safeguards to manage its limitations. Both Minister Kustec and Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, stressed that having the right knowledge and putting in place conditions that are inclusive rather than exclusionary were key. Commissioner Gabriel: "Access to technology for all is a prerequisite for the digital empowerment of society. In this context, one of the increasingly topical issues is the positioning of artificial intelligence, which the Slovenian Presidency is also effectively addressing."

Adult learning for the Europe we want: inclusive, sustainable and socially just

Creating the right conditions is crucial not only for digital learning, but also for successful adult learning. This is why the ministers at the Education Council adopted a resolution on a renewed European Agenda for Adult Learning by 2030. Welcoming the adoption, Minister Kustec said: "This resolution aims to provide the conditions to help citizens acquire the right set of knowledge, skills and competences they need to be ready for the future. This will not only benefit individuals, but society as a whole, bringing us closer to the Europe we want: inclusive, sustainable and socially just." The thematic conference of the Slovenian Presidency on adult learning, at which the professional circles drafted the Declaration, has made an important contribution to the resolution. This includes recommendations and professional commitments to promoting Lifelong Learning, enabling flexible and personalised learning pathways.

A new strategic framework for the European Education Area

Today, education ministers also adopted a new strategic framework for the establishment of the European education system. The framework sets out a governance model that builds on past experience. Minister Kustec said: "Our aim is to optimise the system that is used to implement the framework for cooperation in education and training. We have agreed with ministers that member states should take more responsibility and that we need more concrete political guidance and closer links between the political and technical levels. The resolution on the new strategic framework foresees the creation of a new body, the "High Level Group Coordination Committee", which will play a coordinating and supporting role."

Youth ministers adopt conclusions on civic spaces

At the Youth Council, ministers adopted a resolution on the results of the 8th Cycle of the EU Youth Dialogue to ensure that the results of the eighth cycle are confirmed and acted upon by all stakeholders involved in youth policies. Minister Kustec pointed out: "We call on all stakeholders to strengthen and improve the EU Youth Dialogue process and put young people at the heart of it. We have reviewed the implementation of the EU Youth Strategy over the last few years, and now we need to look forward and set the strategy’s priorities for the coming years. Therefore, the Slovenian Presidency is actively committed to the legislative endorsement of the European Year of Youth that lies before us."

Ministers have also adopted a Council Resolution on the EU Youth Strategy Work Plan 2022-2024, which sets out the priorities and actions that the incoming Trio Presidencies intend to implement in the 2022-2024 period.

As the voice of young people is an important priority, the ministers have adopted conclusions on safeguarding and creating civic spaces for young people that facilitate meaningful youth participation. These spaces are essential to enabling young people to participate in society and to exercise their civil liberties in terms of access to information, expression of opinion, and assembly and association. The conclusions adopted call on the member states and the Commission to support the conservation and expansion of these civic spaces, while recognising and addressing the pitfalls of young people's activities such as social networks.

Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council, 29-30 November 2021

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