Building a Europe for and with children

Istanbul 4 May 2007


Ladies and Gentlemen,

 First of all, I would like to thank the Turkish authorities for organising this Conference which builds directly on the results of the previous meeting of the European Ministers in Athens in 2005. Indeed, we could not select a more appropriate environment to discuss issues related to intercultural education. Istanbul is a city at the crossroads of cultures, a bridge between two continents - a European metropolis with an oriental flair.

 The 22nd Session of the Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education in Istanbul is an opportunity for discussion and debate about a type of education that respects children’s rights and multiculturalism and is geared towards lifelong learning. The results should provide a basis for establishing new education policies and practices with a view to building a Europe where there is a real democratic culture and greater respect for every single individual and the community as a whole.

 The programme “Building a Europe for and with children” is a direct follow-up to the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe which took place in Warsaw in May 2005. Moreover, Chapter III of the Action Plan adopted at the Summit set the objective for a more humane and inclusive Europe, which is also the title of this Conference.

 The aim of the programme “Building Europe for and with Children” is to help to design and to implement national strategies for the protection of children’s rights and the prevention of violence against children. Whenever appropriate, the activities of the programme are carried out with the meaningful participation of children

 The programme comprises two closely linked strands: the promotion of children’s rights and the action programme “Children and violence”.

 I believe that the objectives of the Programme are fully in line with the ambition to create a more humane and inclusive Europe. It is clear that education has a vital role in this respect.

 A more humane and inclusive Europe is a Europe which is based on values of democracy and human rights. The respect for these values can never be taken for granted. It is the result of a learning process starting from early childhood in which the family, the social environment and of course, formal and non formal education have a crucial role to play.

 Education is also instrumental in transmitting a sense of rights and responsibilities. The only way to educate for democracy is to educate democratically. If the link is established, a virtuous circle can be drawn facilitating better and broader access to education and from there, to a wider respect for human rights.

 Access to quality education for all, increases the equality of chances in a socially and culturally diverse Europe.

 Children belonging to a minority group, children in institutions or in care, children with disabilities and child victims of social exclusion or extreme poverty may have specific needs, but they have equal rights and should have equal chances.

 We therefore have to ensure educational integration and participation of all children, including those with special and multiple needs, with the support of specialised staff and specially designed educational instruments and procedures, and taking into account the diversity that is found in the classrooms today.

 I warmly welcome your decision to devote part of your work in this Ministerial Conference to the very important issue of education on children’s rights. We must educate for the protection of their rights and through the protection of their rights. This calls for:

 First, the inclusion of children’s rights in the school curricula at all educational levels.

 Second, a thorough examination of and feedback on the ways in which children’s rights are taken into account, are exercised and respected throughout formal and informal education in curricula in all educational materials and procedures. Teachers and other educational staff should be regularly trained, guided and advised in this respect.

 Third, measures to safeguard democracy in schools and promote constant dialogue inside the classrooms and with the school administration and the enlarged school community.

 Fourth, measures to ensure gender mainstreaming as well as the implementation of equality and non-discrimination principles in the whole educational system, taking special measures to tackle discrimination against child immigrants, refugees or members of minorities.

 Fifth, measures to prevent and tackle violence at schools and bullying with particular stress on information, communication, facilitation and counselling, involving specialised professionals and children as mediators.

 Sixth, measures to provide support and assistance to teachers helping to handle cases of children victimised or neglected at home.

 Seventh, measures to link schools with local social and health services and promote the appropriate referrals, so that adequate support is provided to all pupils that are in need of it.

 Eighth, measures to enhance co-operation between schools, public services and non governmental organisations which work for the protection of children’s rights.

 And finally, measures to integrate children who, for various reasons,  do not participate in formal education.

 The Council of Europe is already producing child friendly and pedagogical material on children’s rights. We are also working on a teachers’ training methodology to prevent violence in schools. Material on democratic school governance, on quality assurance, on intercultural education, including its religious dimension have also been produced. These resources would greatly benefit from your political support and could help teachers and students in the classrooms throughout your countries.

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

 School is a powerful tool against social inequality. Through partnerships with parents, industry and civil society, we can break the vicious circle of social exclusion.

 This Conference is an opportunity to make progress, by focusing on specific policy measures aimed at:

 -         mainstreaming intercultural education;

-         promoting difference and quality learning for all young people,

-         promoting democratic governance of schools and full consideration of children’s rights in every aspect of school organisation;

-         developing partnerships between schools and key stakeholders in society at large;

-         ensuring that children who never go to school, or who drop out for some reason are not lost, and finally;      

-         ensuring that teachers and school leaders are supported in their challenging roles in educating our young European citizens.

 The Council of Europe’s education policies are vital tools in defending and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

 Our approach is based on our commitment to provide high-quality education to all. This includes teaching about active and democratic citizenship and intercultural skills, including language skills, needed to live in harmony with other groups.

 But high quality education to all makes better sense if a lifelong perspective is added to it. Education and learning cannot stop at a certain moment of time. Building knowledge, skills and values are processes, they have no real end. You learn diversity, but you also have to live diversity. Livelong learning is a key to an active citizenship and an essential tool to build and consolidate a more humane and inclusive Europe.

 “Children’s rights in an educational perspective”, “Inclusive education policies for social cohesion in a multicultural Europe” and “Lifelong learning for social inclusion” lay out the three main fields of action, which coincide with the work on education under way at the Council of Europe.

 The Third Summit of the Council of Europe Heads of State and Government has given us an important and ambitious mandate. I believe that this Conference will provide a good opportunity to make progress. Education is the key – because a humane and inclusive Europe starts with a humane and inclusive school.