Reading, mathematics, and science have been recognized as the core competencies to be developed in schools. But on average, about one in five young people aged 15 in the EU demonstrates low levels of proficiency in the three core competencies. At the EU level, a worrying number of pupils have very low basic skills, particularly in mathematics.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is the most reputable international assessment in reading, mathematics and science of 15-year olds, showed no progress in improving the percentage of low achievers in math at the EU level since 2009 but even though the percentages are recently slowly going down in most EU countries, the share of low achievers in Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, Norway and Iceland has even increased in the last fifteen years.
Even though the vast majority of European jobs require Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) skills, predictions are that there will be 9 hundred thousand unfilled ICT positions in the EU by 2020. Statistics show that less than fifteen per cents of European students have access to a high-level ICT teaching, while in some EU member states, such as Greece and Croatia, fewer than half of pupils even have access to the internet at school. Between 50 and 80 per cents of students in the EU never use digital textbooks, exercise software, broadcasts/podcasts, simulations or learning games.
But even when students have access to the right technology, there is no guarantee that they will be properly taught on how to use it. In most EU countries, fewer than thirty per cents of children aged between 10 and 15 are taught by “digitally confident” teachers. Most teachers use ICT mainly to prepare their teaching, rather than to work with students during lessons.
The level of skills in foreign languages acquired by young Europeans is not yet being systematically measured across all EU countries. However, some research studies have shown a wide variations across member countries. Despite the linguistic diversity of the Union, one in two young students enrolled in general secondary education learns two or more foreign languages. In some countries, the proportion of young people studying at least two foreign languages is almost one hundred per cents, such as in the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland and Lichtenstein. But on the other hand, Ireland and the United Kingdom have particularly low results.
Some education professionals argue that these pessimistic statistics clearly indicate that schools might not be the best place for young people to learn what they need. For that reason, many young people leave formal education prematurely without having gained relevant qualifications or a school certificate.
On average, about eleven per cents of Europeans aged between 18 and 24 in 2014 has left education having completed lower secondary education at most. Spain, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Iceland and Turkey report much higher percentages, while the lowest shares are registered in the Czech Republic, Croatia, Poland, and Slovenia.
But regardless of the country level figures, skills and knowledge young people learn in schools across the EU are obviously not sufficient and not enough useful to them and there are more and more skeptics who even raise the question of what is the reason of attending formal education.
However, the real question should be if the education systems of the EU countries will take the alarming statistics seriously and undertake the serious reforms in order to help young Europeans to become highly skilled and confident citizens of the world. And if the answer is yes – how soon we can except the changes to take place.