A recent European Union (EU) conference explored methods to ensure all children across Europe receive the education and services they need. The Directorates-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) and Structural Reform Support (DG REFORM) were the organisers. The conference took place on 6 May as a side event to the Social Summit organised by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, opened the event. Ms Ferreira highlighted that vulnerable children have particularly suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. She pointed to the recent Child Guarantee, the work of DG REFORM and the European Education Area, which contribute to children’s well-being and social inclusion. She also outlined how sharing experiences at national and international levels can help to combat child poverty and exclusion.
Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, also expressed the importance of a co-ordinated response to the pandemic and to children’s well-being. He explained how economic and social recovery are interlinked, and that investments must be made in people, including children – and particularly those at risk – through programmes such as the Technical Support Instrument (successor to the Structural Reform Support Programme).
In a session on ‘Providing every child with equal chances to succeed in education’, representatives from across Europe outlined recent efforts to improve inclusive education systems in their countries. These include a compulsory early childhood education programme in Bulgaria, reducing the rate of early school leaving in Latvia and Romania, and work with the Agency and DG REFORM in Portugal to design a system to monitor the new inclusive education law.
Agency representative Victoria Soriano described the Agency’s work with DG REFORM to support countries in their move towards more inclusive education systems. She highlighted how the pandemic can serve as an opportunity to make our systems of education more inclusive, stronger and more resilient. A comprehensive analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on national education systems is important to identify strengths in legislation, policies and practices. It would also help to identify educational areas that need more consistent support at policy level, such as teacher training and technology. This will lead to more inclusive education systems generally, which are also better prepared for future crises.