Speech given in the European Parliament on the 25th of October 2022
Thank you very much…dear members of the European Parliament, dear deputy minister, dear chair of mentoring Europe, ladies and gentlemen, mentees/mentor,
First of all, it’s a great pleasure for me to be together with all of you for this event. Dear Ilana, I think it is already a success, it’s the first time I see a conference organized and dedicated to this topic at this level. At the European parliament. At the same time let’s not forget that here you have the commission, the parliament, and the council. So, you have much more chances to promote the ideas but to see a follow-up. Something that will facilitate your daily life and above all will be helpful for European society as European Union.
I’d like to say thank you very much for the testimonies because I really noted all the keywords: …, unlock your potential, support and empower each other, confidence, skills, curiosity, courage, Mentoring for a short time, impact forever. Create a brighter and more inclusive European society that’s the content of our European values. That’s the content of not only our future but our present. So, thank you very much for this extraordinary strength you give to us.
Now I will come, step by step, to the things that are a little bit more associated to the European Commission as you can see. First, I would really like to say in the very beginning that it’s really good that we have this discussion. Because it’s true that Europe is facing a lot of challenges but it’s true that addressing today’s global challenges that will require that every student, every citizen of the European Union, have the necessary competence, the necessary confidence, to feel its ideas. And these include the knowledge, skills, and attitude that citizens will need for personal fulfillment and development, employability, social inclusion, and active citizenship. However, I would like to share with you that the European Union is facing some major educational challenges that require attention and action. Maybe that will be my challenge, how with mentoring we can better tackle these challenges. First, we need to bear in mind that quality education and training build on the basic skills of mathematics, science, and reading. And yet we know that today nearly 25% of the 15-year old’s in the European Union are functionally illiterate in those basic skills. So, in addition to this quite, not surprising but shocking number I must say, far too many young Europeans leave education and training without an upper secondary education. This is quite alarming.
Second, the socio-economic background of a learner and their family continue to be the strongest determinant of educational outcomes. All our analysis shows that pupils with a disadvantage to the background are more likely to have poor educational outcomes than their more affluent peers. And this points to a persistent risk of inter-generational transmission of disadvantage and reduced upward socio-mobility. And third let’s always remember what happened in the last two years covid-related school closures have exacerbated the educational underachievement and the negative trends in the mental health of all students, particularly among those with socioeconomic disadvantages. That is why we have embarked on the ambitious path of establishing the European Education Area by 2025. Here you have the 3 most powerful actors that are here since the very beginning but now we really need to move forward.
And let me give you 2 specific examples of recent initiatives that are part of the European Education Area and that are helping our member states to address these existing challenges. And maybe here, dear Ilana, the challenge it will be to see, much more the mentoring as the key element that we need to support better in order to achieve better results. Allow me to share this with you, first always a little bit boring thing, but that’s the work of the European commission. A council recommendation on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education. We really need to pay attention to this and I am very glad we have the deputy minister with us because it outlines short-term measures to address the most pressing challenges and inequalities first exacerbated by covid 19. The same time by putting forward long-term approaches for blended learning and this means, and I insist, that mentoring can help a lot, this means promoting learning in different environments including the school site, home, outdoors, cultural sites, and workplace. And that’s something new that we have. Because for the first time we can see that with our member states we definitely realize when we talk about education and when we talk about the role of mentoring it is important to not only stay in the buildings of our schools. Let’s talk about non-formal and informal learning and I must say that here you have our full support. The second example that I would like to share with you is our recent initiative Pathways to School Success. As the title is indicating the objective is really to reduce early leaving from education and training as well as these underachievements in basic skills reading, mathematics, and science. And with this initiative, we pay special attention and have a special focus on promoting well-being at school and we would like here definitely again to raise the importance of mentoring. Because I’m sure when we listen to our testimonies and to our mentees and mentors we can see how this well-being, this self-confidence can be completely changed. Thanks to the mentoring activities, being mentors, and mentees. So, for me what’s important is to say that with this initiative we are taking a holistic approach, believe me, it’s not always the case when you are Commissioner responsible for education and for research, education, and culture. But we look at both educational achievement and attainment as well as the social and emotional well-being aspects. And this is a framework for us we always need, because you know we have limited competencies in the field of education with our member states. But it is true that with the framework we identify key conditions and a wide range of prevention, intervention, and compensation measures. Which will serve as a reference tool for policymakers and practitioners in education and training. And I’m sure that here there is something to do. For sure we support the implementation of this initiative through a number of factions, and this includes monitoring and reporting within the European Education Area framework.
Why I am saying this? Because you know the European Parliament is a big supporter of all my initiatives. But at the same time, they are always asking where we are, how we advance and I’m seeing here Mikhail Asoidrova and that’s the strongest voice we have in the parliament asking me where we are with the European Educational Area what are the milestones? What did you achieve in the last few months? So that’s an opportunity because I don’t think that at the beginning of the process, we really included the role of mentoring, let’s be very honest in this review. But maybe that will be an opportunity to pay much more attention.
Third I must say that here in the pathways approach well-being at school goes hand in hand with school success and for this, maybe to share with you, something that we’ll have in 2023, we launched the goal this year in September. To set up an expert group to develop proposals on strategies to support learning environments for groups at risk, underachievement, and for supporting wellbeing at school. This expert group will start the work in 2023 and will pay particular attention to well-being, and mental health. But yes, we have to attract the attention of our experts that mentoring here can be completely unexplored until now but there is a lot of potentials. So that’s why we are here today. Mentoring is a key instrument widely used in a variety of contexts. It is a promising working method to promote better educational outcomes. But not only are we paying attention to young people and it’s the European Year of Youth it is great but let’s not forget our teachers because that can be great for their professional development and even for entire schools. A way to develop their way of working and that’s why I am really happy to say that the importance of mentoring is clearly recognized in policy documents at the European level. But now we have the explicit reference in those both initiatives, blended learning and pathways to school success. But we need to transform these references into operational tools, into a critical mass of initiatives and actions that will make a difference at the European level.
And here is coming Erasmus+ Program. I asked my team, that was the occasion for this conference, how many projects with mentoring are funded by Erasmus+. And it’s good that we have more than 200 projects. And I’m really glad that we have, in the school education field, it’s nearly 70 partnerships, in adult education with 110 strategic partnership projects, and with vocational education and training, we have 30 partnerships ongoing. Is it enough? No, but what is the starting point? For me, it will be to give them more visibility. And I think here we can very much count on you, and you can count on us. I see Ilana already thinking about the next conference. Allow me to share on other points and after I will conclude. We talk a lot about school, about teachers, young people and I’m really very glad that during the European year of youth these topics start really to raise much more. But let’s not forget young researchers. Because just ten days ago I had our policy dialogue with young people coming from different countries, every commissioner for European youth has this kind of policy dialogue. And the only one strong wish of our young researchers that were in the room was: We need mentoring, we need mentorship programs. But here the problem is that this activity is not recognized in their part as a researcher. So dear professor, I hope we will continue to talk about research specimens and how important it is to valorize these experiences in order to encourage much more young researchers to be mentors to have mentors but for that, we need to address some of the most difficult issues that we have. And believe me, we already started that process 6 months ago that will not be easy, but we decided to go in this direction.
So here is my final word to say a big thank you to mentoring Europe because you increase the quality, the reach, and the visibility of mentoring in Europe. It’s really about creating a community when we see the thousands of members that you have. For me, it’s really how you can join ambitions with real change, with good practices, with a positive impact, and at the same time with motivation and inspiration and that’s what I would like to say. Continue, continue to promote mentoring, that’s not only the core of your actions but with your actions, we can transform mentoring into something more powerful in our actions. And I think, the big objective is to widen access of quality mentoring across Europe, to promote the inclusion of mentoring in public policies, your work is extremely important in our joint effort to address these challenges that Europe is facing as a whole. I can only to encourage you to continue, thank you very much for your valuable work. And that’ll be my message, continue with joint forces and transform beautiful words with already good examples into something that will definitely be at the heart of our European project. And that you’ll shape our better future. Thank you very much!
Transcribed by our Student Lab