Authors: Yann Fournier, Florence Lefresne, Robert Rakocevic, DEPP-MIREI
Economic and social environment
The opening chapter describes the economic and social environment of families with children in the European Union (EU). The household structure, the educational attainment levels of parents and the comfort of dwellings reveal significantly different average characteristics from country to country. Thus, for example, over 60% of the 0 to 17 year-olds in Finland and Ireland have parents with higher education degrees, whereas in Croatia and Romania fewer than 25% are in a similar situation. Among the 0 to 17 year-olds, less than 1% live in housing without showers or bathtubs in the vast majority of the northern and western European countries, while this proportion reaches 35% in Romania and 17% in Bulgaria. The risk of poverty and social exclusion is everywhere systematically higher when parents have low levels of educational attainment.
Chapter two presents the great diversity of the EU’s educational systems. Their very organization bears the mark of these singularities. Early childhood education and care systems, the age of compulsory enrolment (beginning and end) and even the structure of educational cycles vary from one country to the next. Indeed even if in a majority of cases there exist common course for all children that encompass primary and the first cycle of secondary education, in contrast certain countries (Austria, Germany, Lithuania and the Netherlands) stream their students early on into different branches. The latter are countries that traditionally have well developed apprenticeship systems, with the notable exception of Denmark where both the core curriculum – up to the end of the first cycle of secondary education – and an extensive apprenticeship system co-exist.
The third chapter deals with education expenses. The share of wealth produced allocated to education accounted for roughly an average of 5% in the 22 EU member countries of the OECD in 2014, but it varies significantly depending on the country. The impact of the economic and financial crisis of 2008 on expenditure for education was more or less felt within the member countries. As for the cost per student, it was mainly influenced at each educational level by four factors that were selected differently per country, i.e. teachers’ salaries and their teaching time, students’ instruction time and, lastly, class sizes.
Chapter four presents the main characteristics of teachers in the EU. Mostly female, the teaching population is aging, but this varies from one country to the next. In the present demographic context where the number of students remains stable, this aging confronts countries with the issue of making the teaching profession attractive. The great majority or teachers hold bachelor or masters degrees – at least those who work in the first cycle of secondary education. They teach in national contexts where their working conditions and employment (the number of students per teacher, regulations concerning the weekly workload, statutory salaries and access to further training) vary considerably.
Education outcomes: performance and equity
Chapter five deals with the results obtained by educational systems from the angle of students’ performances and the fairness in their distribution. Findings of the PISA 2015, TIMSS 2015 and PIRLS 2016 surveys have been used here. The performances of European countries regarding 6 of the 7 quantified targets of the strategic framework Education and Training 2020 (learning mobility as defined by the present strategy has not yet been monitored) are also examined here. The targets covers early school leaving, higher-education graduates, pre-pre-primary enrolment, lifelong learning, students' proficiency in reading, mathematics and science and lastly, recent graduates' employability.
From initial training to employment
And lastly, chapter six highlights the economic and social outcomes of education. Degrees everywhere play a determining role on access to employment and incomes. Further education resulting in a higher degree is systematically seen as profitable. Penalized in their access to employment, people with low educational achievement also have less access to further training. The issue of gender, present in several chapters, deserves a particular mention here. Women, that have on average a higher educational attainment level than men, occupy a less favorable position in the labour market. Lastly, the impact of education is far from limited to just the labor market. Thus, for example, in all European countries the risk of obesity and behavior relating to smoking, but also participation in cultural activities or even the frequency of using computers, differ systematically according to the level of education attained.