Joanna reviews her trip to Brussels for the Convention on Education & Work.
Thank you to the Organising Bureau of Student Unions for organising this convention!
OBESSU – What is it again?
The Organising Bureau for European School Student Unions (OBESSU) is an organisation which connects and supports student voice on a European level. It was set up in Dublin 30 years ago and today OBESSU is a 22 member strong body, which works tirelessly to advocate for student rights and bring European student unions together for training’s, conventions and study sessions to discuss various topics relevant to them. OBESSU is best defined by its political platform, a document which sets out the main objectives and stands of the Bureau, available on their website. It’s a vibrant and super engaging organisation which does amazing work for students. Find out more here – http://www.obessu.org/
The OBESSU convention on Education and Work ran from the 24th to the 28th of May in Brussels. This convention brought participants from countries such as Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, to name a few. I represented Ireland through the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU).
We came together to discuss recent developments and reports regarding the discourse and actions that EU institutions are adopting on the topic of education and work… Basically we brainstormed and explained situations in our own countries, what we believed in and what we wanted to see happen. Then we investigated what EU bodies are saying on these topics and how we want to respond to them.
These conventions are brilliant for really getting to understand a topic and for me, it showed me how EU debates and decisions influence Irish politics on the topic of education and its’ links to work.
The week began with getting to know each other and getting to know statistical information from different countries, as well as chatting about our experiences and attitudes towards education and work in our countries. There was an online phase before the convention, and some of the research that we carried out there was used to make a map of youth unemployment and NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) young people.
To be honest, I found it difficult to focus just on the unemployed group of young people and their experiences of education, when in my opinion NEETs are a group with much bigger issues. Also, it quickly became evident that when it comes to living in poverty and difficulties in accessing both education and work, there are particular groups in society who face this problem more than others. Migrants, and especially migrants from non-EU countries are the most vulnerable group. But, this convention dealt with education and work on a European level and national level within our countries and organisations. So from day two, we focused on this theme.
It was great that during the week we got to talk to a panel of MEPs and a panel of stakeholders, representing EU institutions, trade unions, youth and corporations. Both panel debates were very interesting and gave us a real chance to engage with the European discourses and get good insights into the topic.
We had sessions on work of national institutions, OBESSU and other youth organisations who lobby on a European level, discussing skills for the labour market and many discussions on links of vocational education to work and shaping curricula and attitudes in schools towards providing pupils with skills needed for work.
Different student unions had very different things to say about how vocational education is regarded in their countries and how curricula are either incredibly outdated or re-designed in favour of the needs of the labour market. I also found it interesting how much emphasis the EU is putting on the ‘skills agenda’ or what’s called ‘skills mismatch’. These terms are used to explain why our schools need to change how they teach in order to prepare students for the labour market, because currently the ‘mismatch’ occurs for some graduates from school/college and it means that students have skills that don’t suit the needs of the labour market… Which I 100% disagree with!!
Education is for life, not for labour markets. Skills should be adaptable. School should focus on producing creative, critical and healthy individuals who have the abilities necessary to face challenges of life. Students should be taught to manage and organise themselves and most importantly, engage in life-long learning beyond formal education. This ‘mismatch’ is not an issue of student knowledge and skills, it’s an issue of the labour markets adaptability and being able to make the most out of the potential of the graduates that we have. And, it’s also an issue of some school systems still being based on an old-style industrial model of learning material off by heart, without any continuous assessment or critical thinking skills. We need education reform and for labour markets to adapt for students, not for students to adapt for labour markets.
It drove me crazy to look over the EU research in this field! But what’s important to remember, is that at OBESSU trips I am representing the students of Ireland, not my personal beliefs, so I tried my best to focus on the discourse in Ireland and what we have been hearing from students at various events and our AGM on this topic.
For anyone interested in how EU education policies are formed and how they influence national agendas, I highly recommend looking up the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) group on Education. These groups don’t make binding laws, but their discussions influence politicians from around Europe, who then bring what they discussed and learned in the OMC back to their home countries to continue the conversation. The conversations around education and work are based on different perspectives in the OMC – not just education to fill labour gaps, but also education as something that is our human right and that is necessary for life, not for work.
So, after many discussions, which went on long past the dedicated session times and really opened my eyes to the topic of education and work, it was time for conclusions and drafting plans for our home organisations!
I brainstormed a bit with friends from the Czech student union and got a lot of inspiration from the Finnish reps. I then sat down to write my plan. There was a ‘local phase’ aspect to the convention. This means that all of the participants will try to incorporate the topic of education and work and the learning that they have gathered over the week into the work plans of their organisations. This is a bit tricky, because as a representative of ISSU I couldn’t make decisions on behalf of the whole union. However, I could brainstorm ideas and learn from the other organisations and form a proposal to the National Student Executive (NSE).
I thought that a blog outlining the event was a must, but I also considered actions such as writing letters to the minister for jobs, commenting on the skills-agenda in Ireland and encouraging education for life discourse, and not education for work language; for example there is a lot of incentivising done to Irish students to take STEM subjects, not because there is a boom in interest among young people in maths, science and technology subjects, but because there are jobs in them. This encouragement to get an education with the goal of getting a job in a field is not right. Education should be for life. When students are making choices about what fields of study to go into, they should have the freedom to chose the topics that they feel most passionate or concerned about and which they enjoy. We want students to be happy and fulfilled by their studies, not to get caught in a course because they feel forced into it, or like it is the only option in order to make money some day. We can see the negative effects of this in the high dropout rates of students who took up STEM, when it wasn’t right for them.
Effective guidance counselling, work experience programmes and tasters/shadow opportunities to experience what different education paths and fields are like are so important for students to help them make the right choices for themselves. And most importantly, students must have the freedom to chose what will make them happy and fulfilled as a person. No one should be setting an agenda for education. Human rights are not debatable.
I feel strongly about this topic and I would be more than happy to work with the NSE on designing workshops on this topic for use in student council meet ups and our Regional Councils in September/October. It would help us reach out to students with this topic and make them aware of it, as well as empowering them and our organisation in order to take an active part in the discussions with Irish politicians about it.
My plans are drafted in my learning notebook from the week and ready for proposal at the upcoming student executive meeting. Also, if anything in my blog sparked your interest or you have any questions and the link between education and work, about OBESSU or how ISSU engages with other second-level students’ unions and then with our own grass root members in order to shape policies and action plans – drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com 🙂 I’d be happy to answer!
Then it ended… Time for the next project!
The week in Brussels ended super emotional, as always. But, I was lucky because less than 48 hours later I was back in the European capital! I am currently a part of the 6-person prep team for OBESSU’s Summer School ‘Democracy and Active Participation’ which will take place in Kosovo this July! The prep team met for 2 days and it was a very intense yet interesting experience. For more updates on the summer school and what I learned while sitting on the prep team, keep an eye out on the ISSU social media and follow myself and our President Jane on Snapchat from July 2nd, and see for yourself what the summer school will be like! Snapchat @issu4u
Photo Credits: OBESSU http://www.obessu.org 🙂
Please note: blog posts reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union. Blogs are updated daily by 6.30 pm on scheduled examination dates.
Zeminar is an event for Generation Z, particularly those aged between 15 and 19, and their parents, teachers, mentors and coaches. It will take place from 11th – 13th of October 2016. For more information see www.zeminar.ie