Member of the Renew Europe Group in the European Committee of the Regions (Renew Europe CoR), Councillor Gillian Coughlan, Mayor of Cork County and a teacher herself, discussed the place of the teachers at the heart of the European education area during a Renew Europe webinar with Ilana Cicurel MEP at the end of October.
Coughlan, who previously also served as a rapporteur in the European Committee of the Regions on the Digital Education Plan, has a good view on education on the ground, both as a teacher for the last 20 years as well as in her capacity as Mayor, which has given her the opportunity to visit other schools and universities. She knows for the students, parents and teachers what is going on today in our education system.
COVID-19 was a shock to every section of society, including the education sphere. Suddenly, students and teachers had to stay at home to learn and teach from home. In the school where Coughlan teaches, they were fortunate that a major investment in technology had recently been made, she explained.
“If we have to place education and teachers at the heart of Europe, and at the heart for Europe, we must link teachers with each other, and continue to inspire them to up-skill and adapt their methodologies to the rapidly changing society in which we live,” Coughlan said.
Coughlan called for physical education hubs to be established in university cities so that teachers across the educational system can continue in-service quality and professional development. While being physical hubs, the digital element will obviously also be available.
Focusing on the shortage of teachers in her home country, Coughlan supported offering teachers an attractive pay package:
“Today in Ireland, younger teachers are on a lower pay scale than more senior colleagues. This is an appalling scenario and a disincentive to young people. If teachers and education are the heart or at the heart of education, then investment are the lungs, feeding education to lead to clear benefits: well-educated, happy students entering the workforce. The more we invest in education, the more we invest in the future.”
“I’m pleased that access to digital devices has now become a right in the EU – as a member of the broadband platform, I’ve been calling for digital cohesion – parity to access to broadband, as well access to hard- and software, should be a right.”
Coughlan concluded with an appeal to invest in and to value teachers, providing the back-up support to which they can refer a child facing a crisis, as too often they have to wait. Coughlan sees this as the biggest challenge.
Other participants of the webinar on 28 October 2021 included Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, research, Culture, Education and Youth; Jean Michel Blanquer, French Minister of National Education; Li Andersson, Finnish Minister of Education and Culture, and others.
Photo credit: European Committee of the Regions