What’s wrong with European education? Despite the best efforts of EU governments, youth unemployment remains unacceptably high at roughly 18%. Whilst this does represent an improvement over previous years (it was over 23% in 2013), and there is obviously a great deal of variety between European countries (in Germany, only 7% of young people are unable to find a job, whereas in Greece the figure is over 50%), there are still a heck of a lot of young Europeans out of work.

Yet, alarmingly, some surveys suggest that almost 30% of employers have difficulty filling vacancies. So, is this a problem of the broader economy (i.e. there just aren’t enough jobs to go round), or are young people being badly prepared for the job market? The International Labour Office (ILO) reported in 2014 that, “on average, the level of skills mismatch is considerable in Europe”, and argues that it is contributing to higher costs for business, workers, and society.

Should schools and universities be teaching students different skills? Are some EU Member States doing a better job than others? Could a stronger focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) be the answer? Or do we need more apprenticeships and vocational training, helping to prepare people for specific trades and crafts?

Curious to know more about education systems in the EU? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

european-education-systems-2 (1)

We had a comment sent in by Kevin, who believes that too much focus has been put on higher education in Europe at the expense of trade skills, engineering, and vocational training. He believes that the German education system, which places an emphasis on vocational training, would be a good model for the rest of Europe.

To get a reaction, we spoke to Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD. Does he think German education could be a model for the rest of Europe?

I think Germany has a great tradition of advanced and high-quality vocational training. But, ultimately, I think the choice should be with the young people themselves. We should remember that we are talking about the education of other people’s children. So, we should give young people the best possible information, and allow them to choose for themselves.

For another perspective, we spoke to Prof. Dr. Ludger Wößmann, Director of the Ifo Center for the Economics of Education. What did he think?

woessmannWell, there are pros and cons for both approaches; both for a more general, university, academic education, and a more vocational education. Different countries have different mixes between those two approaches.

More vocational-based educations, as Kevin suggests, do facilitate entry into the labour market faster. The transition from school into the labour market tends to be easier. However, there is a downside, at least in the long term, if you are willing to take the full life-cycle of a worker into account. If the economy changes – and we know there are always strong technical and structural changes within economies – then the specific skills demanded 30 or 40 years from now are probably quite different from those demanded today.

So, if you have a very occupation-specific vocational education, then your skills may be less relevant as market demands change, and you may have problems finding new employment if your firm is hit by such changes. By contrast, with a more general, broad-based education, you have to learn specific skills on the job, which means it is harder to transition immediately into employment, but in the longer run you may find it easier to adapt to new demands on the labour market. So, in the long-run, unemployment is lower among older people with a general education…

We also had a comment sent in from Markus, who argues that European education systems need to massively invest in teaching students the right skills for the 21st Century. Which is easy to say… but what are the right skills for the 21st Century? What would Andreas Schleicher say?

It’s a good question. The dilemma for educators is that the kind of knowledge and skills that are easy to measure via standardised testing also happen to be exactly the sort of things that are easy to digitise, automate, and outsource.

The modern world no long rewards us just what we know because, these days, Google knows everything. Instead, it rewards us for what we do with what we know. Can we extrapolate practical lessons and apply that knowledge?

Some of the most important skills for the labour market today are character qualities, the resiliance of people, how do they deal with failure, curiosity, courage, leadership, empathy. I’m not sure whether we should call them skills or knowledge, but character qualities are hugely important for how people navigate an increasingly complex, volatile, and uncertain world.

Finally, how would Ludger Wößmann respond to Markus? What did he think were the rights skills for the 21st Century?

woessmannThere’s a controversial debate in academic research about what the right skills are for the 21st Century. My own view is that it’s not advisable to talk about very specific types of skills; because we don’t know what the labour market will demand 30 or 40 years from now.

What we’ve seen in the past is that it’s really important for the longer-run development of a country’s economy – as well as for individuals themselves – to have a good basis of broad, general skills: reading, writing, maths, and science skills. Students who have learned this basis will find it easier to adapt to whatever the demands will be in the future. This broad skillset should include the ability to learn for yourself, to understand, and to differentiate between separate questions. It should also include basic IT skills, but it seems certain that very specific IT skills that are relevant now will be out of demand in 10 or 20 years

How can European education systems be improved? Should European education place more of an emphasis on vocational training and apprenticeships? What sorts of skills should students learn to prepare them for the job market? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Richard Wood
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


81 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Andrej Němec

    – Make use of modern tools of communication and learning (ipad, Wikipedia, etc.)

    – Exchange programmes like Erasmus since High school

    – More hours dedicated to learning of foreign languages.

    – Mandatory subtitling of foreign movies, abolition of dubbing.

    – Rewarding system for best performers (including lower fees and monetary incentives)

    – Civics taught in all schools, showing the rights but mostly the duties of every citizen.

    – Mandatory sport and discipline learning activities.

    – Reintroduction of an EU wide mandatory military service also for women. Serving the Country and the European Union can restore societal cohesion and confidence in the institution and in the European project.

  2. avatar
    Paul X

    I personally believe the internet has been a main contributory factor in “dumbing down” the value of education.
    During my degree days if you were given a problem to solve you would have to get off your butt and into a library, determine which is the most relevant reference book and then read through it until you found the information you required, all of which enhanced the learning value way and above the basic answer to the question
    These days you are posed a question the first port of call is Google, which agreed, sometimes gives you the correct answer to the question, but that is all, the additional value of having to research the topic is completely bypassed

  3. avatar
    José Gonçalves

    I agree almost with all, Andrej.
    And I will add this topics:
    – science projects in the school’s curriculum;
    – a day with parents’ jobs
    – exchange knowledge between students and teachers with other EU countries
    – “my space program” to bring STEM to all EU schools through Inquiry

  4. avatar
    John Lamprogiannis

    Once Europe becomes a union of equal citizens and of equal mind and not be gooverned by authoritarian states, then European education may show signs of improvement!

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @John Lamprogiannis
      Look what good the Soviet Union did?

  5. avatar

    Start by researching what Finland is doing and try to reproduce what it is doing well.
    Then research the needs of society – an aging population, less pollution, too much stress, the need to end “industrial farming based on poisons”… the list is long and full of opportunities – and develop training and educational programs that support all these needs. Industry will follow, believe me.
    Research industrial trends that make no sense, such as robotics and drones everywhere. Society does not need all of these everywhere. There has to be a better way to live.
    THAT is what should be aimed at.
    If one continues pandering to what industry thinks of next we will never get out of this death spiral.
    This is not a panacea but something that needs to be seriously considered.

  6. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    Start by researching what Finland is doing and try to reproduce what it is doing well.
    Then research the needs of society – an aging population, less pollution, too much stress, the need to end “industrial farming based on poisons”… the list is long and full of opportunities – and develop training and educational programs that support all these needs. Industry will follow, believe me.
    Research industrial trends that make no sense, such as robotics and drones everywhere, and push back. Society does not need all of these everywhere. There has to be a better way to live.
    THAT is what should be aimed at.
    If one continues pandering to what industry thinks of next we will never get out of this death spiral… more gadgets, less jobs and a constant mismatch between skills and employment.
    This is not a panacea but something that needs to be seriously considered.

    • avatar

      Totally agree with you!!!

  7. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Full reforms .. Get inspiration and copy successful educational systems that work better, like many Scandinavian ones or others …. Replace outdated modules like religion with new ones which are more appropriate for modern Europe and will allow young people to actually get a job that is required and needed in the European job market not just hold a degree that will lead you nowhere and you’ll end up working as a waiter…. Encourage modules that will promote critical thinking among our youths, not just require to learn stuff of the past by heart just to remember the next day for an exam to pass the module, but that will teach you a lesson for the rest of your life and make you a better, free thinking person….

  8. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    state parlando di microeconomia ma per risolvere i problemi del lavoro ci vuole un intervento di macroeonomia con investimenti Statali o della BCE che faccia da banca degli Stati che non lo è. In mancanza di questo è fuffa .

  9. avatar
    Agu Sting

    I have the answer. More resources for education and less money in Switzerland.

  10. avatar
    Marcin Szymek

    whole european system can be improved only by sending away unresponsible people like verhofstadt, schultz and the rest of those liberal bastartds being in charge of everything, and destroys initial ideas of EU! this is the key point!

  11. avatar
    João Nuno Correia

    É uma questão que tem que ser muito cuidadosamente, analisada e sem grande perda de tempo. É que é claro que os métodos em uso nos países mais evoluídos, estão mais do que ultrapassados e desfasados perante a realidade. E as características da oferta para empregos novos, a evoluir em permanência.

  12. avatar
    Jaime Ribeiro

    Ninguém pode melhorar o que não existe !…Por exemplo; Qual é o Sistema educativo português , seus valores e princípios ?…

  13. avatar
    Marco Marreiros

    It is not a matter of education,……..; it is a matter o get fucked,…. more or less…………!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. avatar
    Wlodzimierz Gontarz

    lol.. :) efforts of EU governments AND new work places do not add up… But mostly it: ppl in EU lost initiative. They think govs do everything for them… Also, to many people not working living on a cost of those who work. The rule should be: you work, or you out. With exception for people who are really unable to work, physically challenged or so. If you are strong enough to survive travel from middle east to EU, you are strong enough to work for your food.

  15. avatar

    If I look at the common currency, the common asylum-system, the common border-control, then perhaps the best would be, not to have a common education-system.

  16. avatar
    catherine benning

    For a start, giving all students the truth about how the EU came about will certainly educate them into the little known reality of the influence and money used for this project. How it rose from the Victorious USA after WWII and its secret, but now exposed CIA takeover, of their very existence.

    How that spread, via the UK sycophancy, into the grovelling bankrupt it has become. Perhaps, with some truth in their education, they will realise the only way for European progression, which includes the UK, is to rid itself of the Globalist set up of American hegemony that is destroying the socialist values of Europe by massive debt.

    Read all about it. It comes directly from the little known release of the CIA archives of the 1940’s and 50’s.

    Education cannot be revolutionary unless students have the freedom of understanding their history, without the groping hand of politically correct stultified individuals tying a pair of blinkers around their eyes to keep them on a race into their oblivion.

  17. avatar
    José Bessa da Silva

    What the hell? Europe does not have an educational system, it has several. This questions border the complete stupidity.

  18. avatar
    Dragos Rugescu

    First off, the Bologna accord was disastrous for my country’s ternary schooling system. It should have NEVER been implemented.
    Secondly, Europe needs a common vocational policy mandating that all EU countries establish and maintain vocational schools in addition to high schools. The abolishment of vocational training here had, again, disastrous effects. One cannot find, for example, young lathe workers anymore.
    Thirdly, there should be a European system of school prizes: the worst schools (evaluated according to a set of standards) in every country should receive special grants and support to correct the metrics, every year.
    Lastly, there needs to be a mandatory education-industry cooperation scheme, including technology transfers, entrepreneurship training, paid internship schemes, all integrated into one large R&D-Education-Technology-Life-Long-Learning program where the future lies and which will be the backbone of the EU economy. This won’t work simply as a European “recommendation”.
    Oh, and there should also be a mandatory system of gifted children schools in every country, as well as slow learners.
    With respect to learning objectives, we should look to Finland and Asia and obviously, PISA test results.

  19. avatar
    Yavor Hadzhiev

    It is easy to see by reading reports on youth social exclusion by the European Commission itself that the youngsters who are more likely to be unemployed are those that are more likely to have lower educational attainment which is mainly due to their socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

    That is – poor kids and youngsters are those who have the least opportunities in society and receive the lowest quality of education, either by due to the quality of the schools they attend, either by the effects of their hardships on their studies, either by their inability to move to other cities or countries when necessary…

    So the problem, in my view, is far from being a solely educational one. It is rooted in the unfair structures and arrangements of society. It is rooted in the greed of companies that make billions of profits annually and still are reluctant to use a small part of that profit to hire young people and provide them with training programs. So, in many respects this the problem is also an ethical one – one of lack of a most basic sense of social responsibility.

  20. avatar
    Ronie Ninalga

    Education is important, give free schooling to people have interest in studies regardless of age..

  21. avatar
    Giulio Ascari

    First of all, each education system should allow student to get hold of two foreign languages at an early age, stimulating the study of a third one…

  22. avatar
    Giulio Ascari

    Secondly, Erasmus and joint degrees should be much more widespread…

    We need to be internationally-oriented to be highly educated..

  23. avatar
    Firas Moka

    Flanders and german education systems are the most strongest systems ! The rest is rubbish !

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Firas Moka
      Erm, UK universities are No. 1 in Europe and No. 2 in the world.

  24. avatar
    Ronie Ninalga

    Education is very important. Give a chance to study those who are interested regardless of age ( just like me ) and regardless of country origin even study now and pay later . when we finished and got a Job… i dreamed to be a Medical Surgeon…

  25. avatar
    Christopher Kealy

    The EU has represented a dwindling share of total world trade for some years now (17%) and this share is set to fall even further by 2020. Even the EU admits this. Let’s abolish the EU, and let national economies get back to determining their own economic policies and currencies.

  26. avatar
    Míchel Jorge Millares

    La educación debe ser transversal, dinámica y eficaz. Debe responder a las demandas de la sociedad y sus agentes pero también las personales. ¡Y hay formas para conseguirlo!

  27. avatar
    Luis Prenda Prenda

    Educação europeia tem ser universal, isto é para todos interessados em conhecer culturalmente o que é a U.E.

  28. avatar
    Antonio Borroni

    In Italy for improving the educational system the first thing to do is to eliminate the corruption. Money should be sent for avoiding that ceilings crumple above students heads but unfortunately these euro disappear in mysterious ways….. Deans, teachers should be always and everywhere hired for their merits not because they are friends or relatives of somebody! !!

  29. avatar
    George Yiannitsiotis

    Cornerstones of European civilization are the ancient Greek & Latin language and literature. Without these fundamentals, there can be no European Culture and Education; only “experts” who destroy Europe…

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @George Yiannitsiotis
      Indian and Sanskrit influenced European civilization – India deserves a mention too?

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Colin Jennings:

      You, in essence, are absolutely right. And the reason is, education is not what we are told it is, it has become indoctrination of the masses.

      To an extent, education has always been a method of indoctrination. However, now, students are totally brainwashed into a political correctness which makes the world of literacy and general education opaque. This is why they find it so difficult to think outside the box. They have no method of free thinking in order to expand or counter on their information. They have been stultified.

      As I have written before, students bark the same record repeatedly, no matter how you present the alternative voice. When you try to debate or discuss, they simply cannot draw on any substance to confirm or prove their analysis. In effect, they have lost the ability of analysis and correlation. They are simply programmed to repeat the lines they have been directed to without any understanding of where or why they have the ideas they do. Even when what they believe is clear, there is zero common sense behind those beliefs they have been given.

      It is a form of rote learning robotic style.

  30. avatar
    Toni Soto

    Two simple ideas/suggestions:

    A) identifying current examples of truly good practice.
    B) Supporting / helping teachers who want to research in real world scenarios to find out what works and what not.
    Why not proving resources and time to allow/helps teachers who want to research on what actually work to improve the

  31. avatar
    Iveta Kazoka

    We do not know the future and the jobs of the future, so I would say that schools should orient students towards a lifelong learning attitude – when graduating, a student needs to have a clear sense that his/her education will not end with a degree, but would continue throughout one’s life. In addition to life-long learning attitude, there should be plenty of state/privately provided opportunities to acquire skills that are needed in our century irrespective of the age of the student

  32. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    i fondi europei arrivano alle scuole dopo un progetto presentato , dunque la UE già ci sta . Per essere approvato deve piacere alla UE e poi non sono fondi che arrivano al netto , sono fondi che uno Stato paga dunque non è la UE a sovvenzionare l’istruzione ma è lo Stato stesso e nel caso nostro paga di più di quel che riceve fino ad impoverire la società. Questo perchè non abbiamo la sovranità monetaria ( tutti quanti i paesi con l’euro ) e rientra nel criterio insensato voluto dalla UE del pareggio di bilancio . Dunque la scuola per la UE non è importante e “costringe” gli Stati a privatizzarle. La corruzione non c’entra niente , è il progetto UE che è insensato

  33. avatar
    Elden Strevel

    The Social Progress Imperative has compiled research on basic education levels throughout the world and presented it via the Social Progress Index; this offers a rigorous and comprehensive way of measuring social progress, including – and most relevant for our current interests – a score for a country’s level of access to basic knowledge including factors like adult literacy rate, primary school enrolment, secondary school enrolment, and women’s mean years in school. Not everyone who knows is encouraged to teach. Every person can teach. Parents often do not have the time to teach their kids because they seem to be consumed with work to pay off their debt. But who says it needs to be parents or teachers the only ones teaching? Kids teaching kids, young people or adults teaching kids. The best way to learn is by teaching.

  34. avatar
    Alex Sascha

    WTF? UE= Union of Embarrassment where our governments don’t serve our interests but sprays and sprays this Democracy of Hypocrisy

  35. avatar
    Andrej Němec

    Stupid comments from stupid people. Education is ALL. It provides a better life in general. And the power of information is the real power. The more you know, the more you can do. Ask yourselves why secret services control our lives..

  36. avatar
    Laura de Pellegrino

    reading books.. Eric Fromm escape from freedom…full explanation how eropeans can t not deal without upper minds…the common peaple deletes everything .they dont care about about the about futur.

  37. avatar
    Andrej Němec

    – Improve media quality imposing high quality contents.
    – Mandatory subtitling of foreign movies as opposed to dubbing.
    – Mandatory Erasmus programmes starting already from Secondary school.

  38. avatar
    Ingemar Grahn

    We meddela a decline in The Word population and get it mord even spred. So it would be mutch benifichal for both The economic and enviromen tog primery race The birthrate by removing the obsticals for immigrations. Tog get it back as it was before WW 1.

  39. avatar
    Astrid Heidenreich Roberts

    I think the EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM in most European countries is not evolving with the times. I talked about this with many parents and teachers alike. Many were brought up in an old-fashioned school system, that was adequate then, but is not anymore, but little in school has changed. The WAY we learn, the SUBJECTS we learn. They are not TIME RELEVANT anymore and hence graduates DON’T FIND WORK in the jobs of today. Look at the GREEN SCHOOL CONCEPT It’s current, it’s engaging, it’s the future. They have ‘Waste Management’ and ‘Environmental Studies’ and do projects ‘holistically’. If there was one nearby, I would sign our kids up immediately. BUT the BIG QUESTION is: if THEY can do it, why CAN’T OTHERS. How can we educate our children for the FUTURE, if our educational systems are stuck in the PAST? Even the European Curriculum our children are following is somewhat archaic and it very much depends on the motivation of the teachers how much they engage. So let’s REFORM the educational system QUICKLY to give our children the RELEVANT SKILLS for the future and the job market. And speed up or cut the EVER-PARALYSING BUREAUCRACY that surrounds Europe and its policies (example Vaccination :-).

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