The European Commission has published a Communication “School development and excellent teaching for a great start in life” just 2 days before the world celebrates the Global Day of Parents on 1 June. While the United Nations dedicates International Days to and puts enormous effort in families, the European Commission has taken a huge step backwards from its 2016 policy messages on transforming schools to achieve the EU2020 headline target for reducing early school leaving, and instead of acknowledging students and parents as key change-makers, it focuses on trying to impose a system on them, on us. Parents have been committed to offer the best possible education to their children – as individuals and through their representative organisations -, but being solely responsible for the education of their children it is their, our minimum demand to be involved in decisions on how education systems supporting us in our role as primary educators should be shaped for better outcomes. We are committed to school development and excellent teaching, ready to contribute to their development, but we, parents are the ones to provide a great start in life. We are aware that some parents need support in that, and have worked for parental empowerment. School development must go hand in hand with parental empowerment, professionals and parents need to cooperate to really serve our children. Investing in education must mean investing in parents as much as it means investing in schools.
The Global Day of Parents recognizes that ‘the family has the primary responsibility for the nurturing and protection of children’, and also that ‘for the full and harmonious development of their personality, children should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding’. For the UN ‘families remain at the centre of social life ensuring the well-being of their members, educating and socializing children and youth and caring for young and old’, and parents’ associations applaud this as the right approach.
As compared to this, the European Commission has just reinforced its wish to put children in formal educational institutions, that means being away from their families, spectacularly ignoring research results as well as the open and loud wish of parents. A good start in life depends on the home environment most of all, thus any attempt leaving parents’ empowerment and home-school cooperation out of the equation is deemed to fail. While the document acknowledges that schools are accountable to parents, the solutions offered seem to ignore this.
The Communication acknowledges that ‘schools play a pivotal role in life-long learning’, but abandons previous approaches of demanding for schools to open up and become learning communities, and rather narrows the approach to saying that ‘action is needed to improve the quality and performance of school education’. To further narrow down the approach, the Communication offers to define quality and performance based again nearly exclusively on PISA, totally forgetting about the role of stakeholders, especially the people responsible for education of children, their parents, in defining them.
The Communication talks about ‘working towards a shared commitment’. This, according to the document, is meant to be a shared commitment of the EU and Member States, but in case there is no shared commitment of policy makers and practitioners – be them professionals, like teachers, or parents – Europe as a whole is on its way to fail its main targets in education, as it happened with the Lisbon Goals. Parents’ associations gathered in EPA represent 150 million European citizens, parents, who have expressed their views on how education should be improved together. The EC seemed to positively react on these wishes by their policy messages in 2016 and other recent publications. We sincerely hope the current Communication will be reconsidered by the EC, and will also be challenged by the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions it is addressed to, taking child rights, parents’ rights and parents’ associations demands into consideration.