From Ecuador, researcher, international adviser, specialist in literacy and Lifelong Learning, Ex-minister of Education and Cultures
My comments refer to, and are triggered by, “The new Skills Agenda for Europe” by Dana Bachmann and Paul Holdsworth, of the European Commission. I speak from the perspective of “developing countries” and of Latin America in particular. From this perspective it is always useful to see what Europeans are thinking and doing, not necessarily to do the same but rather to understand better our specific realities and needs. In the end, given the strong cultural dependence, our governments end up trying to follow and imitate Europe and/or North America (the classic and persistent “developing”/”developed” notion). Concepts, indicators, ideals, international co-operation, are focused on the global North.
The paper presents the new Skills Agenda for Europe. It sees skills as a pathway to employability and prosperity. It revolves around some problems and data identified as critical:
– A quarter of the European adult population (70 million) struggles with reading and writing, and has poor numeracy and digital skills, putting them at risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.
– More than 65 million people have not achieved a qualification corresponding to upper secondary level. This rate varies significantly across countries, reaching 50% or more in some.
– The adults mostly in need of engaging in learning participate very little in lifelong learning. On average, only 10.7% of adult Europeans participated in any education and training in 2014, with significant variation between countries and against an EU target of 15% set to be reached by 2020. An analysis of the participation of low-qualified adults in education and training shows even lower participation rates, varying from below 1% in some countries to over 20% in others. On average in the EU only 4.3% of low-qualified adults – that is, the group most in need of learning – participate in education and training.
To improve the employment opportunities and overall life chances of low-skilled adults, the Commission has made a proposal to help low-skilled adults – both in-work and out of work – to improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills and, where possible, to develop a wider set of skills leading to an upper secondary education qualification or equivalent.
The proposal is that Member States should introduce a Skills Guarantee, which would involve offering to low qualified adults: (a) a skills assessment, enabling them to identify their existing skills and their upskilling needs; (b) a package of education or training tailored to the specific learning needs of each individual, and (c) opportunities to have their skills validated and recognised.
The new Skills Agenda for Europe is structured around three priority areas: more and better skills; put the skills developed to good use; and better understand what skills will be demanded to help people choose what skills to develop.
– Improving the quality and relevance of skills formation.
– Strengthening the foundation: basic skills (literacy, numeracy, digital skills) for everybody (“the proposal for a Skills Guarantee aims to provide low qualified adults access to flexible tailored upskilling pathways to improve these skills or progress towards an upper secondary qualification”).
– Making vocational education and training (VET) a first choice. Increasing its attractiveness, through quality provision and flexible organisation, allowing progression to higher vocational or academic learning, and closer links with the world of work.
– Building resilience: key competences and higher, more complex skills. These include literacy, numeracy, science and foreign languages, as well as transversal skills and key competences such as digital competences, entrepreneurship, critical thinking, problem solving or learning to learn, and financial literacy. – Getting connected: focus on digital skills.
– Making skills and qualifications more visible and comparable.- Improving transparency and comparability of qualifications.- Early profiling of migrants’ skills and qualifications.
– Improving skills intelligence and information for better career choices.
– Better information for better choices.
– Boosting skills intelligence and cooperation in economic sectors.
– Better understanding the performance of graduates from Universities and VET.
My comments and suggestions
The diagnosis and the proposal are centred around formal education and training. This remains, in fact, the main international approach to adult education and to education in general. The “being knowledgeable” dimension of the Human Development Index (HDI) continues to refer to education and to formal education only, all ages: expected years of schooling, adult literacy rate, government expenditure on education, gross enrolment ratio all levels, mean years of schooling, population with at least some secondary education, primary school dropout rate, primary school teachers trained to teach, and pupil-teacher ratio in primary school. (As we see, these are the two indicators related to adult education: adult literacy rate and population with at least some secondary education). It is with these indicators that countries’ educational profile is defined.
Without ignoring the importance of these data and of the formal school system, I would like to stress the need to: revisit some concepts; insist on the critical importance of non-formal education and of informal learning not only in adult life but throughout life; consider other ways of thinking/organizing the question of learning for what; radically rethink – at least in our contexts – the eternal struggle with literacy and numeracy; reconsider adulthood and the adult age.
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