The importance of stimulating creativity and innovation in the domains of education and training to guarantee Europe’s future competitiveness as a knowledge economy and the wellbeing of its inhabitants is widely recognized among academics, politicians and representatives of civil society. As will be thoroughly elaborated upon in the state-of-the-art, education and training not only stimulate economic growth and the creation of new skills and jobs. They also have an important role to play promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship (Lamb et al., 2011; OECD, 2011; Campolieto et al., 2010; Araújo et al., 2008; Barroso, 2005; Pollmann-Schult, 2005; Preston, 2004; Solga, 2002). Furthermore, education and training provide, following the human capital theory, individuals with important skills and tools to develop themselves in society and to find a way in life. The evolution towards a knowledge-based society in times of a globalized economy make qualifications and certificates even more vital assets for securing one’s employment and broader social, human and civic development (Lamb et al. 2011; Barroso, 2005; Presidency of the European Council, 2000).
However, the classical systems of education and training are being challenged by a continuously changing social landscape. Due to processes of migration, demographic evolution or changing labour market conditions, the need for innovative learning- and training methods adapted to these social and economic transformations arises. The European Commission recognizes this societal challenge in its Seventh Framework Programme. In the FP7 Cooperation Work Programme, area 8.1.1. Changing role of knowledge throughout the economy, of particular interest is SSH-2012.1.1-1., on Education systems in the 21st century.
Different angles to include new realities
This project approaches the broad topic of Education systems in the 21st century by systematically studying from different angles the issue of early school/training leaving (ESL) in nine European countries, selected for their specific and relevant profiles with respect to this issue. The rationale behind this approach is our believe that the high rate of ESL in the EU is a symptom of the traditional education systems inability to adapt to these new realities. In the processes leading to a pupils decision to leave school or training early, many relevant indicators of structural/systemic, institutional and individual failure to adapt to and overcome these social transformations will therefore become visible.
Evidence shows that the problem of ESL follows certain social and demographic patterns (gender, socio-economic status and ethnic background). These patterns suggest that ESL should not be approached as an individual problem, a problem of individual vulnerability or responsibility, but rather by addressing the deeply social nature of the problem (NESSE, 2010). Hence, ESL predictors have to be sought on the intersecting of different levels. A study on ESL will therefore not only uncover the inadequacies of the current education system in general, it will at the same time analyse the problem in-depth and provide the necessary data to draw up possible solutions. By also identifying and studying different individual coping strategies and institutional and structural good practices of prevention, intervention and compensation measures visible throughout the research project, we will also be able to make recommendation to policy makers and representatives from civil societies and the education system.
By adopting the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the European heads of state and government acknowledged this concern and renewed the commitment that was made by the Lisbon Growth and Jobs Strategy (and benchmarked in the Education Council in 2003) to reduce early school leaving rates to less than 10% (Presidency of the European Council, 2000; Council Conclusions, 2003; Commission Staff, 2010). After consulting the EU 2020 targets, EU Flagship Initiatives and more specifically the European Council Recommendations on policies to reduce early school leaving, we as an international research consortium are assured that an interdisciplinary and comparative research project on monitoring, understanding and tackling early school leaving is particularly relevant to support the attainment of this EU 2020 headline target.