Leading by example - Education, training and skills for Europe’s green future

Innovative green initiatives in the area of education, training and skills are being identified and encouraged by the European Training Foundation, as nations move to support the European Green Deal. The aim is to spark interest and agency to advance the green transition among learners, teachers, institutions, enterprises and authorities in European neighbourhood countries.

A ‘green strand’ in an upcoming ETF-UNESCO conference will explore key components, drivers and preconditions of change to support green transition, and policy priorities to activate transformation. The ETF is also launching a Call for Good Practice stories on innovative green approaches to education, training and skills development.

Climate change, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity are among the major global challenges of our times, and are already impacting on livelihoods and societies, says the ETF in a just-published conference Concept Note on “Supporting the green transition”.

The European Green Deal is the major, futuristic growth strategy for Europe, and the European Union’s contribution to climate change. It is also a post-COVID plan to achieve economic and societal recovery. “The Green Deal is a growth strategy with the objective to protect the planet,” explains Anastasia Fetsi, Head of Operations for the ETF.

It represents a fundamental shift in focus that is influencing all internal EU policies in areas ranging from energy and the (circular) economy to education, training and skills. EU policies, says the Concept Note, “recognise that the rapid shift towards climate neutrality and digital transformation changes the way we work, learn, take part in society and lead our everyday lives.

“Young people need to be well prepared and adults need to up-skill and reskill to adapt to these changes.”

Driving external European relations

The Green Deal’s influence extends to external relations, policies and instruments. A series of tools – policy and regulatory, green investments, budget and procurement, fiscal reforms, research and innovation, education and private sector engagement – put environmental and climate action at the centre of cooperation.

For instance, the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument includes a target to spend 25% of its 2021-2027 budget on green actions.

In EU neighbourhood countries, there is awareness at policy level of the importance of environmental protection, efficient use of natural resources and sustainability. In nearly all of them, sustainability is one of the objectives of national development strategies – of equal importance to macro-economic stability and a good business environment.

The strong policy drive makes accompanying the green transition an expected outcome of a well-functioning lifelong learning system. The green transition will play a crucial role in skills development, and in education and training strategies and reforms.

“All this has inspired the ETF to work in the area of green transition more systematically,” says Anastasia Fetsi. “The key question is how, practically, education and training and skills can develop and support the green transition.

Another key question is how to support partner countries to make this green transition more inclusive.

“Education and training systems must ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to develop skills, competences and attitudes that enable them to use natural resources responsibly as consumers and producers, and to participate in technological and non-technological innovation.”


Taking stock and calling for good practice

For the ETF, an important early move is to take stock of what EU member states, and European neighbourhood and other countries, are doing to ‘green’ education and training systems.

One initiative introduces a strand on supporting the green transition to the ETF-UNESCO international conference to be held from 21-25 June 2021, entitled “Building lifelong learning systems: Skills for green and inclusive societies in the digital era”.

The virtual conference will reflect on how systemic changes are facilitating lifelong learning, and how education and training systems might deal with green and digital futures while guaranteeing the right to education for all. It will be attended by policy-makers, practitioners, employers, donors, experts, researchers and civil society organisations working in education and training.  

The event hopes to identify key components of change that enable education and training systems to accompany the green transition; drivers and preconditions of change; and policy priorities to support change.

Last month the ETF issued a Call for good practice – Green transition: education, training and skills. It is seeking tried and tested methods as well as innovative approaches to education, training and skills development that support the green transition, from enterprises, public and private training providers, industries and sectors, public services and public-private partnerships.

Finalists will receive awards for the Development of Skills for the Green Transition. The top stories will be showcased at the ETF-UNESCO international conference, and in ETF publications and communications. The most interesting stories will feature in ETF short films to be shown at the conference and promoted on social media channels.

Implications for education, training and skills

The policy drive towards sustainable economies and societies has multiple implications for education, training and skills. Anastasia Fetsi describes five dimensions:

  • One is how awareness is developed among people about environmental issues and the impacts of their actions, to enable them to act as responsible consumers and producers.

  • Second is the classical question of how to develop and prepare people for green skills. The green transition is driving continuous innovation in technologies, production processes, products and services, and business models across all sectors of the economy.

  • Third, new technologies and production processes are changing existing and creating new occupations that require training systems to produce new skills and knowledge.

  • “The fourth is about how education systems can help to create green innovation and green jobs.” Changes are driving dynamics of job creation and job destruction that require upskilling and reskilling for large numbers of people.

  • Fifth, transformation requires institutions to become greener themselves, and to interact strongly with local actors and environments to create “skills ecosystems in which economic, technological and social change are interwoven with skills development processes”.

While the ETF’s focus is on education and training, a broader perspective is essential because, for example, today businesses participate in training and there are partnerships between schools and companies for skills.

Indeed, there are multiple routes that education and training systems, and people involved in them, can take to support a green transition. These may range from the teacher as a role model for new ways of living, to developing new skills and competencies, to using recycled products, to changing the mindsets of young people so that they mitigate the environmental impacts of their actions, to syllabus changes that provide examples of environmental value.

Anastasia Fetsi believes teachers have an enormous role to play – not that all teachers are convinced, she adds. Also, kids can be inspired to campaign for environmental awareness in their communities. There are NGOs doing that, but schools can work to engage students in collective efforts.

“Young people love to be mobilised. They prefer it to reading books”


EU neighbourhood action

At the national level, EU neighbourhood countries have been taking action to make education and training responsive to the emerging needs of the green transition. The Concept Note outlines how some have been raising environmental awareness among students in education systems.

  • In Ukraine, environmental awareness is one of 10 key competences to be developed at all levels of education.

  • In Serbia, developing awareness of sustainability, preservation of nature and the environment, and ecology-related ethics are mandatory. A Green Pack of dedicated teaching and learning materials are provided to schools of all types and education levels.

  • Environmental awareness is part of Turkey’s education vision 2023, and green skills are part of a modernised TVET curricula, including specific skills for certain occupations.

  • Georgia has a strategy for environmental education for sustainable development, including a module to be integrated in all TVET curricula, e-learning courses for teachers and students, ECO-clubs and sector-specific modules.

Skills relating to the greening of economies are coming increasingly to the fore, as countries modernise their qualifications and training programmes. However, says the ETF, developments “are still in their infancy and small scale or sporadic”. Supporting and benefiting from the green transition requires more systemic and rapid action on a far larger scale.

And that, exactly, is what the European Training Foundation is striving to achieve.

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