27.04.2011 REPORTS

EU education report: good progress, but more effort needed to achieve targets

EU countries have improved their education systems in key areas over the past decade but they have achieved only one out of five benchmarks set for 2010, the European Commission's new progress report on education and training reveals.

The EU has succeeded in its target to increase the number of maths, science and technology graduates, with a 37% rise since 2000 - easily outstripping the target of 15%. Significant, but insufficient, progress was made in reducing the school drop-out rate, increasing the number of pupils completing upper secondary education, improving reading literacy skills and increasing the share of adults participating in education or training. A detailed breakdown of the figures for each country is available (see link below). The Europe 2020 jobs and growth strategy retains the target of reducing the school drop-out rate to under 10%, as well as increasing the share of graduates to at least 40%.

Commissioner Vassiliou said: "The good news is that education levels of Europeans have risen considerably over the past decade. More young people complete secondary education and graduate from higher education compared to ten years ago. However, early school leaving continues to be a problem that affects one in seven young people in the European Union and one in five pupils still have poor reading skills at the age of 15. That is why education and training are among the core objectives of Europe 2020. But we need further efforts from Member States to reach our joint European targets."

The Commissioner is strongly urging Member States not to make cuts in education budgets despite the constraints they face due to the economic crisis. "Spending on education is a good investment for jobs and economic growth and in the long term pays for itself. But in times of budgetary pressures we also have to ensure that resources are used as efficiently as possible," she added.

Five education benchmarks for 2020

In 2009, EU Education Ministers agreed on five education and training benchmarks to be attained by 2020:

  • the share of early leavers from education and training should be less than 10% (at the current rate of 14.4% this would mean at least 1.7 million fewer school drop-outs);
  • the share of 30-34 year olds with tertiary educational attainment should be at least 40%(at the current rate of 32.3% this would mean an additional 2.6 million graduates);
  • at least 95% of children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education should participate in early childhood education (now 92.3%, achieving target would mean 250,000 more children in education);
  • the share of 15-years olds with insufficient abilities in reading, mathematics and science should be less than 15% (from around 20% for all three now. Achieving the target would mean 250 000 fewer low achievers);
  • an average of at least 15% of adults (age group 25-64) should participate in lifelong learning (current share is 9.3%. Achieving the target would mean 15 million more adults in education and training).

Key results

  • 2020 benchmarks: although it is too early for precise projections, past trends suggest that most of the benchmarks for 2020 should be attainable if Member States continue to give them high priority and invest efficiently in education and training. This is true, in particular, for the two education headline targets on early school leaving and graduates.
  • 2010 benchmarks: EU countries have made progress but only achieved the target on the number of graduates in maths, science and technology. (Full data for 2010 will be available early next year)
  • Participation and attainment: since 2000, overall participation in education has increased as well as the qualification levels of adults. The share of children in pre-primary education has risen as well
  • Gender gaps remain significant both in performance and in choice of subjects. For instance, girls outperform boys in reading, and boys account for most early school leavers. Men outnumber women among graduates in maths, science and technology subjects.

The report, which covers all EU Member States, plus Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Turkey, Norway and Liechtenstein, contains overviews and detailed statistics identifying which countries perform above or below the EU average and which are catching up or falling behind compared to the others.

Next steps

In the coming weeks, Member States will submit their national reform programmes to the Commission, in which they will set national targets on early school leaving and higher education graduates and spell out how they want to achieve their goals. The Commission will soon present proposed new benchmarks on employability and learning mobility.

Full progress report

Text: DG Education and Culture News service