EVBB signs the official document summarizing the main outcomes and highlights of its Annual International Conference, along with SOLIDAR Foundation and the European Entrepreneurs CEA-PME Association.
The president of the EVBB and the IB Chairman of the board Thiemo Fojkar (on the left) signing the Bratislava Declaration at the end of the 23rd edition of EVBB International Conference.
By bringing together politicians, civil society, VET experts and small and medium enterprises, this 23rd edition of EVBB International Conference wants to break down artificial barriers and pave the way to a new strategic partnership for the future of education. In times of uncertainty, co-creation and co-responsibility are the key words that inspire and lead our way to change the VET landscape within the European Union and beyond.
Since its establishment in 1992, EVBB has been strongly advocating for bringing education to the forefront of the fundamental reform in the economy and the society our times are calling for. A radical shift in the way of thinking and conceiving the educational system is required if we want to overcome the material and cultural obstacles on the way of the new human era that globalisation and digitalisation have the potential to bring about. If we want to meet the challenge, we cannot but recognise the role of all relevant stakeholders who need to be involved and proactively participate in the process of redesigning the educational model within the scope of a more open, smart and cooperative 21st-century world.
To this end, the role of civil society organisations and the enterprises is crucial, not replaceable and not delegable. In a world where internet and the new technologies virtually provide everyone with an unprecedented potential for action and empowerment, the question on whether and how it is possible to train people to be ethical subjects and active citizens is an essential one which remains fundamentally open and unaddressed. The school system, alone, cannot provide the required answers and needs to adjust itself to the transformation processes our societies face in a digitalised world. It needs to call for a strong cooperation with civil society actors, local communities, international organisations, and society as a whole.
The organisations representing civil society are a major player in the process of advancing democracy within a genuine bottom-up approach, turning it from a project on paper to an actual and vital reality. Since civil society organisations represent in themselves a vector and a laboratory of democratisation, the educational system should draw on their experience, tune to their practice of commitment, and bring the students into their projects and initiatives. Civically engaged actors particularly play a vital role in anticipating societal challenges, raising awareness on current problems, detecting impending risks and driving positive and constructive developments. Their task is especially important in times of intensive change, when foreseeing what is going to happen before it happens becomes a vital and critical necessity. Climate change, sustainable energy development and social solidarity are some of the most burning issues that have been discussed within civil society’s organisations for years by now, but that still need to be adequately addressed through agreed upon strategies and genuinely shared efforts. To this end, it is crucial to build up a strong dialogue and log-term patterns of cooperation where the voice and role of each social actor and political authority is duly recognised, valued, harmonised and coordinated with the voices and roles of the others, and finally channelled into common action.
Family businesses, micro-enterprises, self-employers and small and medium companies also play a pivotal role in the renovation of the educational system that is required by the present and future digitalised and globalised world. Not only because their cooperation with VET providers and educational institutes is a conditio sine qua non to mainstream work-based learning within a dual system approach and beyond, but also because entrepreneurial skills are going to gain more and more relevance in the curricula of all-grade and all-orientation educational pathways. In this perspective, entrepreneurs have both a lot to teach and a lot to gain from a stronger partnership with VET providers and the educational system in general. On the one hand, family enterprises and small business offer the perfect working setting where students can gain and hone their vocational, relational and practical skills while participating in the actual reality of job and production and benefitting of tutoring and supervision. On the other hand, a stronger and more structural cooperation with VET providers is the only possible way, for the business world, to effectively cure the long-lasting and dramatic shortage in skilled workers it suffers from. As employers, entrepreneurs are the most entitled to teach their potential employees how to do their job. By getting involved in training and education, small and medium enterprises would make a social investment, enhance their image before the general public, gain socio-political ground to play on with a view to seeding their values in mainstream culture. In spite of their denomination, small businesses play a gigantic role in Europe’s socio-economic fabric, constituting over 90% of the overall entrepreneurial sector and representing the backbone of European economy´s values and dynamism.
Democratise and integrate holistic education
within a smart 21st-century ecosystem
Automatization and robotization are changing the identikit of the labour force and the work environments. Increasingly sophisticated machines flank or replace human labour, making the traditional workman either outdated or unnecessary. Hard competition, pressure to succeed, non-acceptance of failure are no longer essential prerequisites for forging ahead with one’s educational path and career. Today, we rather need to turn to creativity and solidarity within a more cooperative and meaningful approach to learning. Still, they are strongly encouraged within the current educational model.
The present-day school system is fashioned on the 19th-century industrial economy’s need to turn people into working machines and bend their personality to the job market´s demands. In the Industry 4.0 era, however, factory workers are not so much needed as creativity, vision and capacity for innovation. Along the same lines, hierarchisation between VET and higher education and the isolation of the school from the outside, actual world, is another feature of the current educational system which is not only anachronous but also detrimental to the flourishing of a new economy and a new society.
We need to change our overall approach to education, and we need to do it right now: otherwise entire generations will be lost, condemned to unemployment, material and spiritual impoverishment, lack of vision and perspectives, loss of their cultural roots and right to write their future.
Present times call for educational hubs connected with different socio-economic actors and capable to nourish and nature a culture of cooperation, equality, co-creation. No relevant social actor of the civil society and the economy can be left out from participating to the design and implementation of a smart 21st-centry educational model. What we call for here is a transition from an ego-system to an eco-system of education. The European Union has started to invest in this much needed shift by launching a programme on smart specialisation. While embarking on this pathway of change, we need to keep in mind that education is not just about school and the job market. Rather, it permeates every dimension of the economy and society. What we teach our children and how we do so determine what and how they will build their future. If their freedom to discover and nourish their talents is prioritised along with their emotional, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing, they will fulfil their genuine potential and give their best possible contribution to the economy and society. By contrast, if their choices are dictated or heavily influenced by economic concerns and social status, they would hardly find their proper place in the world and hardly build the world as their proper place. We therefore advocate for an educational system where every study and every perspective career enjoy equal dignity and power of attractiveness. Each person should get the right opportunities to nurture their talents and change or upgrade their professional choices at any moment of their life.
Ensure quality and foster excellence for all pathways of study and career
Excellence should not be the prerogative of certain educational tracks or a privilege for the few. Rather, it should be within the reach of everyone as a source of personal fulfilment, local and regional development, and as a guarantee for economic prosperity and optimal social cohesion. While endeavouring to ensure that everyone gets equal opportunities for training and education, it is important to keep the bar high and do not reduce the much-needed comprehensive mainstreaming, bottom-up approach to a trivial and easy-going strategy of levelling down.
The VET of the future needs ambition, courage, boldness. To be up to the socio-economic challenges it is called upon, it needs to aim straight away to excellence. What has to be meant as excellence, however, is far from being obvious. This particularly applies to the Union: richness in diversity is certainly one of the most distinctive features of the European culture in general but also, more specifically, of the European heterogeneous landscapes of VET diamond tips, pedagogical assets and educational strengths.
In the era of globalisation, the concept of excellence must entail the capacity to promote the specific talents of both the individuals and the territories within a digitally interconnected world. In times of uncertainty and disruptive change, excellence cannot simply amount to the ability to adapt and homogenise to the status quo. Rather, it fundamentally implies the capacity for creation and co-creation, for connection and cooperation. Continuous professional development of the teachers and training staff must be actively promoted along with innovative pedagogies and partnership-building with research and technology centres.
Excellent VET centres are conceived as learning hubs closely embedded in the specific reality they belong to: smartly networked with local business, chambers of commerce, public bodies and other educational institutes, they are hotbeds of creativity and innovation, and provide the breeding ground of talents and skills within the productive sectors which most can contribute to the sustainable development of their region.
Centres of excellence are expected to promote a learner-centred approach within a lifelong learning perspective which goes far beyond the provision of quality vocational qualifications. Besides initial, higher-level, upskilling and reskilling programmes, excellence centres must be able to ensure the continuous professional development of teachers and the training staff. Through their project- and work-based approach to learning, they must act at one and the same time as educational provides, driver of socio-cultural change, innovation hubs, technology diffusion centres, and business incubators capable of attracting international investments.
More attention should be paid to the emotional, personal and creative dimensions of education, with an appropriate allocation of time and resources for the development of the personal and dialogical skills of all-age students. Within this perspective, it is crucial to adopt more systematic approaches to cooperative and innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Guidance, orientation and counselling should be regularly provided to both teachers and students with a view to ensuring their best possible emotional and personal development.
In very recent years, the Union has paved the way to establish European standards for vocational excellence. Pioneering initiatives focusing on the concept and practice of VET excellence have been promoted and implemented within the context of the Erasmus+ programme. We should be looking forward to anticipation mechanisms able to feed the market with the right skills before skill gaps become an emergency. To this purpose, more R&D is needed, something that must come from but also trigger stronger cooperation with universities and the academia. The capacity to contribute to regional development and partner with local business and the international scientific community has been identified as one of the defining features of vocational excellence. However, the system as a whole has to be pushed forward towards a more integrated ecosystem where excellence can be achieved also through a strong international dimension: EVBB can and should play a lead role in this respect.
Enhance vocational skills and promote VET as a first choice
How can we change the perception and brand image of VET?
It is well established that the standing of vocational education is not on an equal footing with university and higher education. Policy-makers, researchers and experts in pedagogy have been discussing for long on the need to promote VET as a first choice. However, there has not been so much questioning on the underlying dynamics and the root causes confining a huge sector of education on the edge of the system. To really tackle the problem, it is necessary to detect and remove the barriers and obstacles impending a positive perception of VET and the careers they give access to.
Research shows that white-collar and a blue-collar jobs are perceived and conceived of very differently: whereas the firsts enjoy a better standing, the seconds are more than often perceived as difficult, dangerous, and even “dirty”.
Jobs in the field of VET are mainly considered blue-collar jobs and does not enjoy a good reputation. Their poor image is well and firmly established, as it dates back to a distant past: blue collars have been perceived as “unsophisticated” jobs since their first appearance. However, this negative image is the product of culture and has no actual ground in the work and tasks associated with the blue-collar, implying high skills, competences and responsibility. Suffice it to compare the potential mistake of a construction worker, which can produce fatal and irreversible damage, with the mistake of an employee working in an office, which would hardly result in any causality and can easily be corrected in some clicks.
The deconstruction of the narrative surrounding the blue-collar jobs is therefore one of the essential obstacles to remove on the way to promote VET as a first choice. Alongside comes the lack of role models and success stories in VET: successful businessmen, scientists and politicians are usually mentioned as having pursued an academic career and, whereas many influential personalities of our times have not been to the universities, they do not praise and not even publicize their vocational education.
On the other hand, employers prefer to employ people who have pursued an academic career even for jobs for which a Vocational career would make a better match between person and job.
Finding rational grounds for the poor image VET suffers from is as much a challenge as finding effective strategies to build a renewed, positive model for vocational education and careers.
Broadminded and better targeted policies must be designed, implemented and genuinely tested to detect, tackle and overcome the obstacles preventing the VET educational pathways and careers from enjoying the prestige they deserve for the crucial role they play in our economy and society. Steps to be taken include:
- Identify sustainable, tailored ways to promote Vocational training through marketing. To this end, social media, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook and print media should be better exploited according to a thoughtfully designed strategy. The new technologies and the internet channels provide very powerful channels, with an outreach that would have been unthinkable just one decade ago. The power and impact of the digital channels compel care and reflection on the contents circulating the global network so that they can vehiculate an improved, brand-new image of VET.
- Promote VET role models. It is important to spotlight individuals who have followed a vocation training and are having a fulfilling and successful professional life, and who can act as testimonials to brand a different image of blue-collar jobs. More room must be given to successful stories and positive narratives capable of nurturing good reputation and better visibility for VET.
- Enhance internationalisation strategies and transnational networking between VET centres of excellence as a mean to increase the prestige and global attractiveness of vocational qualifications and careers.
- Design and implement concrete tools to establish more equality and permeability between VET and higher education in order to prevent any hierarchisation and compartmentalisation of the educational system as a whole. A renovated image of VET necessarily involves better revenues and an enhanced social representation targeting both blue-collar jobs and VET teachers and trainers.
Strive for more Europe and more cooperation to bridge outdated gaps and build an open-border, cross-national landscape for education
The school of the future is the world itself. Since the advent of internet and the low-cost airlines, the physical and material distances among people have been constantly shrinking at an amazing pace. The economic, social and cultural distances, however, can decrease only at a slower pace. The gap between the physical proximity and the cultural diversity of people living fuels the ancestral fear of the “other”. The process of globalisation often involves the erosion of cultural diversity along with an illusory sense of connectedness, an impoverishment of collective and individual identities, a disruptive homogenization of the socio-economic fabric under the pressure of the market´s blind forces.
The 21st century education is both embedded in its local context and open to the entire world. We need to overcome a national-based and potentially nationalistic model of education. Joint curricula and transnational mobility of the training and teaching staff must be encouraged worldwide, and the European institutions can play a lead global role to this end.
The local and European dimension of educational policies need to be enhanced through both a top-down and a bottom-up approach. To this purpose, mobility should be the rule rather than the exception. All students and all workers should be able to have a mobility experience in their life. Cross-border learning should be encouraged through specific policy mechanisms, and adequate funding provided. Internationalisation strategies must be carefully designed, tested and implement at all level of education, but especially in VET where they must answer to a precise need of the global market while contributing to change the poor image of vocational qualifications and careers. Open-boarder education must be supported without any compromise as the best insurance for our future.
Signed on June the 28th, 2019, in Bratislava, by the President of EVBB, the President of SOLIDAR and the Managing Director of European Entrepreneurs CEA-PME.
The pdf version of the Bratislava Declaration is available here.