EU: Curriculum reforms a must

Wide-ranging curriculum reforms and more investment in higher education are needed to meet Europe's education and societal demands, according to a report by the European Parliament's culture and education committee.

The report urges a boost in computer literacy, a strengthening of education-business links, fostering mobility, facilitating lifelong learning and tackling social exclusion in education. It calls on EU member states and businesses to invest in education and training as "an essential precondition for emerging from the crisis".

To teach the skills that society needs, the report says measures need to be adopted to ensure at least 40% of people between 30 and 34 have a university education.

It is also essential to increase digital and media literacy and teach new technologies at all levels of education and training. Children should be taught computer skills at an early age and enabled to handle the internet "with a sense of responsibility and critical discernment".

The report urges the member states "to modernise the agenda of higher education and, in particular, to coordinate curricula with the demands of the labour market". They should also encourage partnerships at all levels between higher education institutions and the business world, and expand work-based learning and apprenticeships.

To enhance student and teacher mobility, financial and recognition-related obstacles should be urgently addressed.

"It is important to promote study periods and traineeships for vocational training students in other EU countries, along the same lines as the Erasmus programme for university students". As "mobility will not become a reality for people without a second language", the report says EU members should introduce the learning of a second language at an early stage.

"Education and training policies should enable all citizens, irrespective of their age, gender and socio-economic background, to acquire, update and develop their skills and competences throughout their lives," it states.

And it supports the aim of raising adult participation in life-long learning from 12.5% to 15% by 2020, and calls on universities "to facilitate wider access to studying, diversify and broaden the student base and amend study programmes to make them attractive to adults returning to study".

The report calls for "the legal recognition of a universal right to life-long education".

"All education should foster the acquisition of democratic competences by supporting student councils and allowing students to take co-responsibility for education... with more regular consultation of, and greater participation by, students in the management of the educational process, active participation by students' parents in the educational community and the development of a confidence-based relationship between students and teachers."

The report proposes recognition and certification of skills acquired in non-formal education because it is complementary to formal education.

Introducing well-funded grant systems to encourage young people from poor families to embark on a course of study is also important, as is the promotion of free higher education "to help the less prosperous".

"Higher education institutions should become more open to non-traditional learners, students with special needs and disadvantaged groups," the report says.

The report was approved in committee with 26 votes in favour, one against and two abstentions. It is scheduled for a plenary vote on 18 May.