Who are Europeans?
Who are Europeans?

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Who are Europeans?

1.6.2 Education

Education is obviously one of the crucial dimensions in any attempt to develop a future European identity or at least more understanding and convergence among Europeans. If the school made the nation, it should also be a key factor in promoting Europeanness. Observers of the school scene in Europe acknowledge the existence of a growing sentiment of interest for European themes (institutions, politics, peoples, languages). Furthermore, the EU-based exchange programmes have recognised the importance of emphasising what is common about Europeans, as well as what is distinctive of each nation, region and locality. However, until the school curriculum reflects the importance of fostering links among European countries, of knowing each other better and of developing a common project for the future, the European ideal will remain the province of the few and the eurosceptics will continue to have the upper hand.

The Council of Ministers of the European Community, in its meeting of 24 May 1988, resolved to develop among children the awareness and knowledge of being European. The most important objectives of the decision were to:

  • Strengthen in young people a sense of European identity and make clear to them the value of European civilization and of the foundations on which the European peoples intend to base their development today – in particular the safeguarding of the principles of democracy, social justice and respect for human rights.

  • Prepare young people to take part in the economic and social development of the EU and in making concrete progress toward European integration, as stipulated in the Single European Act.

  • Make them aware of the advantages which the Union represents, but also of the challenges it involves, in opening up an enlarged economic and social area to them.

  • Improve their knowledge of the Union and its member states in their historical, cultural, economic and social aspects, and bring home to them the significance of the co-operation of the member states of the EU with other countries of Europe and the world.

How can these objectives be translated into action? At the level of the formal curriculum, teaching about the environment, the media, information technology, business, and so on can be used to enhance European understanding. Furthermore, the curriculum can also not only provide information about economic and monetary union, but also reinforce cross-cultural appreciation. Pupils should be made aware of the advantages of speaking European languages. An important thing recognised by educational experts is the development of a school environment which promotes a sense of respect and appreciation of other Europeans. In this context, the encouragement of contacts of all sorts across Europe is of paramount importance if integration is to be achieved.

An area of education that is enormously divisive, however, is the teaching of history. The European Commission, for example, gave support to a project which involved the creation of a kind of ‘Eurohistory’. One of the results of this initiative was the publication in 1990 and in eight different languages of Europe: A History of its Peoples. Written by the French historian J.B. Duroselle, it was criticised for being somewhat francophile, but more importantly for not covering the totality of Europe; the Greeks were particularly annoyed that the contribution of Ancient Greece was left out. Other critics suggested that Duroselle only emphasised the positive in European history, while non-Europeans were depicted negatively. It must be noted, however, that the book also had enthusiastic supporters, including the prestigious British historians J.M. Roberts and Keith Robbins.

Another book which has tried to break the mould of the narrow nationalistic perspective is The Illustrated History of Europe (1992), an initiative of the French historian Frederic Delouche. The text is a collective enterprise in which twelve historians of different nationalities have aimed to present a common and balanced history of Europe. Published in most of the official languages of the EU, the book is aimed both at schoolchildren and the general public; it tries to understand, explain and educate. The common European themes that run through the text are predictable: Greco-Roman heritage, Christianity, the Renaissance, the Reformation, world expansion, scientific revolution, Enlightenment, industrialisation, modernisation and totalitarianism.

No doubt historians have a crucial role to play in recovering a balanced vision of the European past. The collapse of communism from 1989 to 1991 meant the ‘return’ to Europe of the Central and Eastern European peoples. Their histories have also to be reflected in any Eurohistory; the publication of Norman Davies's Europe: A History (1996) is a good example of this desired change of focus.

By the year 2000 there was a convergence within the EU in the direction of a rather broad curriculum centred on four main areas: national languages, foreign language(s), mathematics and science; other subjects were also gaining ground, namely information technology, citizenship and learning skills. However, educational systems continue to reflect their long-standing association with the nation state and continue to play a key role in the creation and transmission of national identities. At present, it is still true that the main function of an education system is to reproduce the national culture. Furthermore, the labour force is exclusively prepared for the national or even the sub-national market – the very small percentage of EU members who work outside their countries/regions attest to that. It is obvious that to increase labour mobility across Europe the educational systems must widen the horizon of the pupils well beyond the purely national/regional horizons (see Box 2).

Box 2: Suggestions for integration of a European dimension in the teaching of language and communication (secondary level)

Cultural awareness

  • Use authentic materials such as magazines, newspapers, satellite and other television programmes.

  • Meet native speakers such as language assistants or visitors.

  • Continue to learn about the customs and traditions of the country of the community of the target language.

  • Experience a wide range of song and music from other cultures.

  • Gain insights into some prose or poetry from European writers.

  • Gain insight into conflict in other European societies.

Vocational skills

  • Use the target language in a real or simulated vocational context.

  • Take part in work experience schemes involving the use of target language.

  • Understand the links between modern European languages and access to post-sixteen educational provision, training and occupations.

  • Analyse and interpret information in advertising in the single market.

  • Adapt to the culture and way of life in another European country when necessary.

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