With the participation of President Metsola, the Lifelong Learning Interest Group of the European Parliament met on the 17th of May 2022 to discuss the question of values that are – and should be – taught in the education system and in non-formal learning. Chaired by Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, the meeting brought together Members of the European Parliament, Civil Society Organisations, decision makers and practitioners, reflecting a variety of views on the role of value education in the European project and beyond.
Pressing questions in challenging times
The meeting was opened by Gina Ebner, Secretary General of the European Association for the Education of Adults, who sparked the conversation by proposing a number of questions on the link between values and education: what values should be at the forefront here, and what role can lifelong learning play to strengthen these values? What status should values such as solidarity, democracy, sustainability, and cultural diversity have? How can transformative lifelong learning convey these values? And how can education and learning build resilience and promote skills needed to deal with those who think differently? The question was also put forth on whether values can be taught or learned and how might the experiential value of ‘doing’ incite a more tangible relationship between learning and values.
The role of Local and Regional Authorities
Mr. Csaba Borboly from the Committee of the Regions (SEDEC), brought the important role of regions and local authorities in promoting values in all areas of education and, in particular, in adult education into the discussion. Highlighting that there are many areas of Europe where a rich – but undervalued – local culture and set of traditions exist, Mr. Borboly emphasised that many of these traditions are in line with European values and should, therefore, find a home in our understanding of values and in learning trajectories developing and teaching/learning values. In addition, he stresses that access to education and training in rural and other marginalised areas of Europe is key. Far too many adults are still denied the right to education, and the opportunity to shape their own future. Finally, he recognised that:
‘The teachers in the 21st century are facing many changes, we need to invest in the professional development of teachers.’
Creating a safe space
Turning to the international dimension, Ms. Robin Sclafani (CEJI) recalled the international instruments that enshrine important values for our society, as the 2018 European Council declaration on the fight against antisemitism. She discussed the neuroscience behind biassed responses that neglect our values, and illustrated the impact of the trainings that CEJI promotes: by devoting time to forge quality relationships and bonds with partners, they can begin to become aware of their biases in an open and safe space, where people can share their experiences and self-reflect for triggering deep change. In addition, she underlined the contribution of social capital theory to understand baseline measures for assessing our promotion of values and its inclusivity. Reimagining the current legal framework, she affirmed:
‘Cultural change requires more than criminal legislation, it requires education legislation. Our values are human rights, equality, social responsibility, the only way is through education.’
Teaching – and practising – democracy
‘Teachers and students need to develop the curriculum together, so that everyone can have ownership of the objectives and the process.’
The European Commission JRC’s speaker, Ms. Clara Centeno, presented her research on teacher professional development and training for diversity and inclusion. Resonating with other panellists, she showed that, in terms of professional development, teachers need a concrete ‘experience of democracy’ rather than teaching about democracy. School heads will need more support and time to build cultures that are welcoming and inclusive – which comes with a profound transformation. Ms. Centeno also stressed that one key area that needs to be addressed is the peer learning aspect and the transferability of programs to adapt, contextualise, and replicate them in different areas.
Values and sustainability
The roundtable was closed by Prof. Peter Mayo from the University of Malta who contextualised all the findings into the current neo-liberal and corporation-driven vision that dominates, in his view, society today. He emphasised the need to conceptualise the idea of lifelong learning as a slow deliberative process that must coincide with the needs, aspirations and preferences of people and not a narrow focus on the needs of the labour market.
‘We don’t teach about education and democracy by talking about it, but by doing it – already in the classroom.’
Tying the elements of our relationship with nature and environmental sustainability, he referenced several seminal works on values, inclusion and the education of adults, while simultaneously pointed to the fact that research is not the issue at hand, rather the implementation of that research and policy change is what has not changed enough over these last few decades.
President Metsola and her vision for the future
Introducing President Metsola, MEP Pietikäinen emphasised the importance of values for our civilization and society, stressing the need for empathy, mutual understanding and tolerance from an early age.
Building on the insights presented by the speakers, President Metsola concluded the event recalling that knowledge and skills acquired in non-formal education are essential in an ever-changing world. In her words:
‘Learning to think, inclusivity, promoting a holistic vision of lifelong learning is a priority – we can, and should, still do more, for example, by increasing the budget of the Erasmus+ programme’.