4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
In the education sector, the Council of Europe has a number of roles and responsibilities in supporting its member States in their efforts to achieve the Goal. In particular:
- Standing Conference of Council of Europe Ministers of Education
The Standing Conference of Council of Europe Ministers of Education (Brussels, 11-12 April 2016) supported a role for the Council of Europe in supporting national efforts to achieve SDG4 by developing a long-term strategy for more coherent and comprehensive Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education (EDC/HRE) including, where possible providing evidence and data on EDC/HRE on which to base further policy recommendations.
In October 2016 the Steering Committee for Education Policy and Practice (CDPPE, renamed Steering Committee for Education, CDEDU, as from January 2022) decided to include SDG4 as a standing agenda item to its bi-annual plenary meetings to exchange best practice and lessons learned in implementing the measures required to achieve SDG4.
- UNESCO Global SDG4-Education 2030 Steering Committee
The Council of Europe was selected as one of two regional organisations for the European and North America region on the UNESCO Global SDG4-Education 2030 Steering Committee.
The Council of Europe contributes to the work of this Committee by presenting regional initiatives, representing and reporting back to its member states, and identifying and promoting good practice in efforts to achieve SDG4 among its member States.
The Council of Europe’s approach to quality education is outlined in Recommendation CM(2012)13 on ensuring quality education. Programmes supporting EDC/HRE; Competences for Democratic Culture; Ethics, Transparency and Integrity in Education (ETINED); inter-cultural dialogue, and education provision for refugees and migrants contribute to achieving SDG 4.
In order to equip learners with the means to acquire the skills and competences for democratic culture, and to enable them to tackle the challenges and risks arising from the digital environment and emerging technologies, the Committee of Ministers adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)10 to member States on developing and promoting digital citizenship education.
The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees (EQPR) contributes to the achievement of SDG4 by facilitating the recognition of refugees’ qualifications even in the absence of full documentation. The EQPR is a Council of Europe initiative based on the Lisbon Recognition Convention and was presented as an example of good practice at the UNHCR’s Global Forum for Refugees in December 2019. The EQPR was developed under the Council of Europe Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe (2017-2019).
Additionally, through its co-operation and capacity-building programme, the Council of Europe’s Education Department offers tailored support to member States, individually or in groups, to identify and promote best practice across a range of education issues, allowing SDG4-related outcomes to be given more visible priority.
Established in 2020 as an Enlarged Partial Agreement, the Observatory on History Teaching in Europe promotes history education that fosters reconciliation, and a culture of peace and non-violence in line with SGD 4.7. Based on a multi-perspective and fact-based approach, the Observatory’s work seeks to understand how history curricula and teaching methods develop students’ comprehension of democracy and democratic values, critical thinking skills, and help them to contribute to a more just society in the future. This allows for the identification of good practices in the field of history education, and to learn how to escape the pitfalls of using history lessons to further political agendas.
The European Social Charter, the human rights treaty on social and economic rights, guarantees the right of children and young persons to social, legal and economic protection in Article 17 of the Charter. This entails the right of children and young persons to a free primary and secondary education as well as to encourage regular attendance at schools.
Under Article 17 of the Charter, equal access to education must be ensured for all children. In this respect particular attention should be paid to vulnerable groups such as children from minorities, children seeking asylum, refugee children, children in hospital, children in care, pregnant teenagers, children deprived of their liberty, etc. Children belonging to these groups must be integrated into mainstream educational facilities and ordinary educational schemes. Measures for Roma children should not involve the establishment of separate schools or classes reserved for this group.
With regard to Roma education, one concrete example related to the support provided to the member states is the Joint Project “Inclusive schools: making a difference for Roma children (INSCHOOL)” which aims at reviewing and adapting education policies and practices in order to transform schools into inclusive places for all the children. Instead of focusing on the child as being the problem, INSCHOOL puts at the heart of its action the education system and its capacity to respond to the specific needs of Roma children, to accommodate differences and to support their learning experience. Similarly, the CoE/EU Joint Project “Building Capacity for Inclusion in Education” is working on fostering quality education in Kosovo* by improving access to education for children from disadvantaged groups including Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children and children with special education needs.
The denial of access to education will exacerbate the vulnerability of an irregularly present child. Therefore, children, whatever their residence status, come within the personal scope of Article 17 of the Charter. Furthermore, States Parties are required, under Article 17 of the Charter, to ensure that children irregularly present in their territory have effective access to education in keeping with any other child, even for those over the age of compulsory education.
Article 15§1 of the Charter makes it an obligation for States Parties to provide education for persons with disabilities, together with vocational guidance and training, in one or other of the pillars of the education system, in other words mainstream or special schools. Education and training are the essential foundation to obtain a position in the open labour market and to be able to lead a self-determined life. Young persons with disabilities with an education below the upper secondary level are per se subject to various disadvantages on the employment market. States Parties must take measures in order to enable integration and guarantee that both mainstream and special schools ensure adequate teaching. Furthermore, States Parties must demonstrate that tangible progress is being made in setting up inclusive and adapted education systems.
As regards vocational education and life-long learning, the Charter guarantees the right to vocational training in Article 10 of the Charter according to which States Parties must:
- ensure general and vocational secondary education, university and non-university higher education; and other forms of vocational training;
- build bridges between secondary vocational education and university and non-university higher education;
- introduce mechanisms for the recognition/validation of knowledge and experience acquired in the context of training/working activity in order to achieve a qualification or to gain access to general, technical and university higher education;
- take measures to make general secondary education and general higher education qualifications relevant from the perspective of professional integration in the job market;
- introduce mechanisms for the recognition of qualifications awarded by continuing vocational education and training.
The main indicators of compliance include the existence of the education and training system, its total capacity (in particular, the ratio between training places and candidates), the total spending on education and training as a percentage of the GDP; the completion rate of young people enrolled in vocational training courses and of students enrolled in higher education; the employment rate of people who hold a higher-education qualification and the waiting-time for these people to get a first qualified job.
The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) monitors the implementation of the Charter, not only in law, but also in practice. The ECSR examined the compliance by States Parties with their obligations under Article 17 of the Charter in its Conclusions 2019 , respectively under Article 10 of the Charter its Conclusions 2020.
The ECSR by its decision of 16 October 2017 on the merits of the complaint Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) v. Belgium (No. 109/2014) concluded that there is a violation of Article 15§1 of the Charter on the ground that the right to inclusive education of children with intellectual disabilities is not effectively guaranteed in the Flemish Community of Belgium and due to lack of an effective remedy against refusal of enrolment in mainstream schooling for children with intellectual disabilities; and that there is a violation of Article 17§2 of the Charter on the ground that the accessibility criteria to an inclusive education are not fulfilled.
In its Conclusions 2019, the Committee adopted a Statement of interpretation on Article 17§2 of the Charter on private sector involvement in education. The Committee recalled that Article 17§2 of the Charter requires States Parties to establish and maintain an educational system that is both accessible and effective. The Charter provides that the obligations under this provision may be met directly or through the involvement of private actors. The Committee notes further that in many states private education is also available.
The Committee is also mindful in this respect of the Abidjan Guiding Principles on the human rights obligations of states to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education. It recalls that the requirement that states respect the freedom of parents to choose an educational institution other than a public institution leaves unchanged the obligation under the Charter to provide free quality public education. Similarly, the offer of educational alternatives by private actors must not be to detrimental to the allocation of resources towards, or otherwise undermine the accessibility and quality of public education. Moreover, states are required to regulate and supervise private sector involvement in education strictly, making sure that the right to education is not undermined. As regards the right to education under Article 17§2 of the Charter, the Committee asked what measures have been taken to introduce anti bullying policies in schools, i.e. measures relating to awareness raising, prevention and intervention.
Furthermore, the Committee emphasised that securing the right of the child to be heard within education is crucial to the realisation of the right to education in terms of Article 17§2. This requires States Parties to ensure child participation across a broad range of decision-making and activities related to education, including in the context of children’s specific learning environments. The Committee asked what measures have been taken by the State to facilitate child participation in this regard.
The Council of Europe’s Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) supports its member States in implementing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and other European standards at the national level. It consists of three key elements:
- The HELP Network of Judiciary Schools and Bar associations of the 46 countries of the Council of Europe (in addition to partners like the European Judicial Training Network and the Council of Bar Associations and Law Societies of Europe).
- Human Rights courses for legal professionals (hosted accessible to all for free on the HELP online platform). They cover a range of topical issues such as asylum, anti-discrimination, data protection, right to education, labour rights, ill-treatment, human trafficking, bioethics, counterfeiting of medical products or international cooperation in criminal matters. These and other courses are briefly described in the HELP catalogue.
- Methodology to develop courses and support the Judiciary Schools and Bar associations
In line with Recommendation (2019)5 of the CoE Committee of Ministers on the system of the European Convention on Human Rights in university education and professional training, the HELP Programme has the potential of reaching out Universities, particularly law faculties) aiming at integrating human rights courses in their curricula. Therefore, university students (with a focus on law students) are a natural target audience for HELP’s online courses. HELP courses can easily and efficiently supplement the educational materials in the law schools’ core curricula. They are increasingly being used by university professors to complement their academic programmes.
The Committe of Ministers adopted Resolution CM/Res(2008)23 on the youth policy of the Council of Europe on 25 November 2008. It adopted Resolution CM/Res(2020)2 on the Council of Europe youth sector strategy 2030 on 22 January 2030. The strategy is available in: English, French, Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Georgian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Kazakh, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian.
The Steering Committee on Anti-discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion (CDADI) developed Guidelines on upholding equality and protecting against discrimination and hate during the COVID-19 and similar crises, which were adopted by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on 5 May 2021, which also took note of the Explanatory Memorandum to those Guidelines. The CDADI furthermore compiled promising and good practice examples in this field. All this work is based on the Study COVID-19: An analysis of the anti-discrimination, diversity and inclusion dimensions in Council of Europe member states. All those documents cover the area of access to quality education and other services for persons belonging to vulnerable groups.
Under its new terms of reference for the years 2022-2025, the Committee of Experts on Roma and Traveller Issues (ADI-ROM) and the CDADI will prepare a Feasibility study and possibly a draft Recommendation on desegregation and inclusion policies and practices in the field of education including Roma and Traveller children.
Sport means respecting the rules, but also providing everyone with an equal chance of taking part. It incorporates the concepts of fair play, fairness and respectful sporting behaviour. The Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS) encourages the teaching of Physical Education and the practice of school sports as means to promote a healthy lifestyle, but also to teach future generations the importance of ensuring that sport is inclusive, ethical and safe (see Good Practice Handbook on “Inclusive and innovative approaches to physical education and sports training”).
The Pestalozzi programme aimed to promote Council of Europe values in the field of sport and physical education enables an online community of practice of education professionals to function as a self-organised community for the exchange of ideas and practices (see the training resources available).
The Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) can finance education and vocational training projects and the related infrastructure, such as:
- Construction, rehabilitation of early childhood education facilities, schools, colleges, vocational training centres, establishments of higher education or specialised learning and/or research and development centres. Eligible investments may include sports and socio-cultural centres as well as residence facilities, learning materials, furniture and equipment;
- Adaptation of such premises in order to facilitate their access to persons with reduced mobility;
- Programmes providing assistance in the training and development of staff in the social and education sectors, training for the unemployed or in favour of vulnerable groups;
- Education related research and development programmes;
- Programmes for student loans.
In the last three years, the CEB has approved 10 projects in the area of education and vocational training, for a total value of €1.44 billion. Twenty-two other projects with a multi-sectorial focus, providing assistance to, inter alia, the education sector, have been approved in the same period.
The North-South Centre of the Council of Europe also contributes to this goal of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development through its Global Education programme advocacy, capacity-building and awareness-raising activities. Recommendation CM/Rec(2011)4 on education for global interdependence and solidarity is of particular relevance in this context.
Since 2009, the Council of Europe, through its North-South Centre, has a joint programme with the European Commission to promote and strengthen Global Development Education in new EU member States and acceding countries. This programme contributes to advocating for and raising awareness on the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in formal and non-formal education sectors.
From 2016 to 2019, the iLEGEND project (Intercultural Learning Exchange through Global Education, Networking and Dialogue), through a series of advocacy, awareness raising and capacity building activities, contributed to i) including principles of Global Development Education in the formal education sector, ii) creating spaces of dialogue between practitioners and policy-makers and iii) reinforcing the knowledge and skills of educators and learners to promote Sustainable Development locally, nationally and internationally.
One of the main guiding tools which leads the Global Education programme are the Global Education Guidelines which support educators to comprehend and successfully design, implement and carry out global education initiatives and learning activities. In 2019 a revised version was published in light of contemporary challenges and on recent elements of tension at social, economic, political, cultural and environmental level. Thus, the pedagogical elements of the new GEG valorise intercultural understanding and practice, conflict prevention and democratic culture, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Building on the success of this project, iLEGEND II was signed in October 2019 and will take place until 2022. It aims to foster a better understanding of global issues and their economic, social, political, environmental and cultural interconnectedness among policy-makers, educators and youth workers."
Check out the video on Global Education concept here and on the iLEGEND joint programme here. Find out more about the Global Education programme here.
Within the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media has a key role in promoting public policies designed to uphold inclusive and quality education. Resolution 2283 (2019) - Education and culture: new partnerships to recognise personal development and competences encourages Member states to embed creative and cultural competences in formal education systems, promote inclusivity in providing quality arts and culture education, and support innovation in education, as well as long-term partnerships between schools, communities, creative industries, cultural institutions and businesses to offer young people new opportunities to develop cultural awareness and expression. Moreover, Resolution 2313 (2019) - Role of education in the digital era: from “digital natives” to “digital citizens” calls for European governments to overhaul teaching and improve coordination at all levels to reduce disparities in education systems, ensure equal access to digital education and fight against digital exclusion, insisting on the importance of raising higher on government agendas re-training teachers, rethinking curricula, invest in ICT facilities and digital resources to support learning and develop new digital-based learning methods.
A report on Promoting online education and research across national borders was adopted by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media on 26 January 2023. It emphasises the importance for member States to strengthen online education and calls on them to commit to a number of interventions to enable educational institutions, teachers and students to make a transition to a more inclusive and interactive education through online resources, including computer and video games.
The Assembly adopted Resolution 2411 (2021) and Recommendation 2217 (2021) on “the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on education and culture”, recommending the member States to evaluate lessons learned from the implementation of emergency measures and to review their policies, putting more emphasis on the long-term perspective, and to address structural weaknesses, which have deepened during the Covid-19 pandemic. More specifically, the Assembly recommended to develop a rights-based approach as part of inclusive education, valuing human dignity and human rights, together with a critical understanding of social inequalities; develop mechanisms that will ensure that quality online education eliminates gender, ethnicity, culture, age and other stereotypes; give due consideration to the right of learners from language minority groups to learn in their own language, especially in primary education; provide safe learning environments (in schools, libraries or other public institutions) to avoid learning losses and exclusion; reassess and review the provision of education for disadvantaged students and those with special needs. Moreover, the Assembly called for a strong European digital framework that would be well-adapted for online education and for various cultural online offers.
The Assembly’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, over the years, prepared reports on fostering student mobility by giving incentives to students to study abroad and possibilities of remaining in host countries after graduation, and on “Integration, empowerment and protection of migrant children through compulsory education” which examined the gap between international undertakings and migrant children’s access to education (see Resolution 2220 (2018) and Resolution 2250 (2019) on Encouraging the movement of international students across Europe. An hearing with the Education Department of Council of Europe on the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees was held in October 2022 as part of the Committee’s preparatory work on the forthcoming report on “Integration of migrants and refugees: benefits for all parties involved.”
In Resolution 2449 (2022) on Protection and alternative care for unaccompanied and separated migrant and refugee children, the Assembly also stressed the importance of and called on all member States to “provide for the integration of unaccompanied migrant minors in the field of education, ensure their learning process and facilitate their link with school and with other children of their age.”
The Assembly has also been concerned about the values of academic freedom and institutional autonomy being under multiple threats today. Its recently adopted Resolution 2352 (2020) and Recommendation 2189 (2020) – Threats to academic freedom and autonomy of higher education institutions in Europe underline the need for governments to strengthen their protection when devising post-Covid19 national higher education policies and regulatory frameworks. The Assembly suggests that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe should assess the feasibility of drafting a binding legal instrument that could set up a proper international framework of assistance, monitoring and assessment of the protection of academic freedom and institutional autonomy in the member States.
Resolution 2486 (2023) on Building the Open Council of Europe Academic Networks (OCEAN) dicusses the work and high potential of the OCEAN project and related academic networks, and the role of universities in upholding Council of Europe values, facilitating the implementation of Council of Europe conventions and building greater unity between all member States. This requires resources, strengths and talents of all sectors of civil society, including scholars, scientists, schools, students, regional and local authorities, social workers as well as non-governmental organisations. The provision of adequate funding, including via voluntary contributions by member States as well as the European Union, is key to the project’s success. National parliamentarians are also invited to raise awareness on this initiative among universities and research institutes, encouraging them to support the creation of national thematic academic networks, under the OCEAN umbrella.
The Assembly’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development also prepared a report on “Artificial intelligence and labour markets: friends or foes?” (see Resolution 2345 (2020) and Recommendation 2186 (2020), putting emphasis on “AI literacy” through digital education programmes for young people and lifelong learning/training paths for all. More recently, Resolution 2414 (2022) and Recommendation 2218 (2022) on “The right to be heard: child participation, a foundation for democratic societies” were adopted by the Assembly. Reports on “For an assessment of the means and provisions to combat children's exposure to pornographic content”, “Preventing addictive behaviours in children” and “Right of the child to protection while using the internet” are also in preparation.
The approach of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is based on three key principles: achieving SDGs is the shared responsibility of all levels of government; local and regional authorities must have the necessary competences and financial autonomy to achieve the goals in their respective areas; citizens must always remain at the heart of the action.
The Congress encourages public authorities to make education accessible to all: free, equitable and of quality. It is particularly committed to promoting the inclusion and active participation of young people in civic life as a means of ensuring social cohesion and anchoring democratic principles in a society based on respect for human rights. This approach was confirmed by the adoption of the European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Municipal and Regional Life in 1992. The active participation of citizens in representative democratic structures and institutions is decisive for the legitimacy, credibility and functioning of democratic systems. The Congress work focuses on social rights, youth work, intercultural education and democratic citizenship.
The Congress adopted the following texts in relation to SDG 4:
- REC433 (2019) and RES442 (2019) Social rights of young people: the role of local and regional authorities
- RES414 (2017) - Forever young? The role of youth policies and youth work at local and regional levels in supporting young people’s transition to autonomy and working life
- REC365 (2014) and RES375 (2014) - Promoting diversity through intercultural education and communication strategies
- RES332 (2011) - Education for democratic citizenship – tools for cities
The following thematic activities of the Congress are particularly related to SDG 4:
Congress has issued the following SDG 4 relevant publications:
Promoting inclusive and quality education for all has been a priority in the work of the Commissioner for Human Rights. Concrete recommendations were addressed to member states in country reports on ways of combating school segregation and achieving more inclusive education systems. In the Position Paper “on combating school segregation through inclusive education” (2017), the Commissioner described the state of play of school segregation across the member states of the Council of Europe, analysed its root causes and presented key principles for an inclusive education policy as well as specific recommendations addressed to member states. In 2017, the Commissioner also intervened as a third party before the European Court of Human Rights in a case regarding access to education of a child with a physical disability. The Commissioner has also made a number of recommendations concerning youth and economic crisis and access to employment. In 2020, the Commissioner submitted her observations to the Committee of Ministers in the context of the supervision of the execution of a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights concerning the need for broader measures to end school segregation against Roma pupils. She also published a Human Rights Comment entitled ‘Comprehensive sexuality education protects children and helps build a safer, inclusive society’.
Recommendation CM/Rec(2020)2 aims at “promoting the inclusion of Roma and/or Travellers’ history, including remembrance of the Roma Holocaust, into school curricula and teaching materials, with the aim of building a culture of tolerance and respect at school; developing the historical awareness and the consciousness of all pupils; contributing to the assertion of Roma and/or Travellers’ identity; and enhancing the understanding that Roma and/or Travellers are an integral part of both national and European societies”. Capacity programmes and tools are being developed to facilitate its application in all interested member States.
See in particular:
Submission on ending school segregation of Roma children (in the context of the supervision of the execution of the judgment of the ECtHR in the case of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic).
See Commissioner’s thematic webpage on social rights: education.
See in particular:
- Position paper ´Positions on combating school segregation through inclusive education’
- Submission on ending school segregation of Roma children (in the context of the supervision of the execution of the judgment of the ECtHR in the case of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic)
- Human Rights Comment ‘Inclusive education vital for social cohesion in diverse societies´
- Human Rights Comment ´Youth Human Rights at risk during the crisis´
- Third party intervention before ECtHR in Stefan Moshe Stoian and Luminitsa Stoian v. Romania
- Opinion article ´Addressing youth unemployment through human rights’
- Human Rights Comment on comprehensive sexuality education
In 2017, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2017)4 on Youth Work, the first internationally agreed policy document that focuses explicitly on youth work, its value for society and the way ahead for its quality development in Europe. Youth work is a ‘keyword’ for all kinds of activities with, for and by young people of a social, cultural, educational or political nature. It belongs to the domain of 'out-of-school’ education, most commonly referred to as either non-formal or informal learning.
The Recommendation proposes that implementation of the text be undertaken five years after its adoption, the European Steering Committee for Youth (CDEJ) is overseeing the review process in 2023.
Congress Resolution 152 (2003) on the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life stipulates in particular that participation is about “having the right, the means, the space and the opportunity, and where necessary, the support to participate in and influence decisions and engage in actions and activities so as to contribute to building a better society”.
Similarly, the Committee of Ministers recommendation CM/Rec(2006)14 on citizenship and participation of young people in public life, adopted in October 2006, states clearly the importance of youth participation in democracy and society, and has built concrete standards for the member states of the Council of Europe. The recommendation further recognises education for participation and the provision of opportunities for experiencing participation as prerequisites for the necessary ongoing improvement of democracy and does not allow for any restriction according to gender, ethnicity, religion, choice of lifestyle or social status, and concerns all young people.
Although nearly two decades have passed since both documents were adopted by the Council of Europe and their implementation has already begun, the Joint Council on Youth (CMJ) in 2022 recognised a need to intensify efforts and extend their implementation to all corners of the member states and the Council of Europe itself, in line with the statement in CM/Rec(2006)14 that "supporting young people’s participation is not restricted to asking their opinions but must include empowering them to be actively involved in a creative and productive manner".
Consequently, the CMJ will in 2023 develop clearer guidelines for the implementation of these important texts which would serve as a guiding reference to member states in strengthening youth participation in local, regional, and national contexts; as well as supporting youth organisations in accessing policies of the Council of Europe directly related to them.
*All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.