Promoting Europe, cultural exchange and mobility – ‘Europe meets School’

Natalie Hill

Moving Europe – because Europe is our future

In 2006 – France and the Netherlands had just rejected the Maastricht treaty – Europe was in a crisis. “A similar situation as we experience today”, recalls Frank Wittmann, Chairman of the German voluntary association “Europa macht Schule e.V.”. The association was founded 11 years ago after the former German Federal President Horst Köhler gathered more than 100 young people to discuss the future of Europe in the students conference ‘What keeps Europe united?’. They came up with the programme idea “Europa macht Schule” (Europe meets School – EmS). The Programme gives European exchange students the opportunity to present their country through a cultural project in a German school, thereby creating awareness of differences and triggering interest for Europe amongst pupils and teachers. The programme has been running in Germany since 2006; since 2009 the DAAD coordinates and implements the programme with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research.

Today, when facing Brexit, rising populism and Euroscepticism, Europe needs these kinds of programmes more than ever. Many young people take Europe for granted; they cannot recall a life without European achievements, such as peace, freedom to travel, work and live at the place of their choice. “We have to join forces to show people how diverse and colorful but at the same time how fundamental Europe is for all of us” said Simone Flach from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research at the European networking event “Promoting Europe, cultural exchange and mobility. Europa macht Schule – Europe meets School” on 22/23 May 2017. Upon invitation of the DAAD, 100 participants, composed of representatives of Erasmus+ National Agencies, students and interested organisations, from 13 different European countries came together at the representation of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) to the EU in Brussels. They discussed how to strengthen programmes such as EmS that promote Europe, cultural exchange and mobility. Sylvia Löhrmann, Minister for school and further education of the German federal state North-Rhine Westphalia called upon participants to contribute with their ideas: ”We need committed people and active citizens to build a new European society”.      

The DAAD, as conference host, was pleasantly surprised by the number of programmes that exist in Europe and that, like ‘Europa macht Schule’, promote European values in schools, by using current and former exchange students and/or young people as ambassadors of the European idea. In a World Café session, 10 programme initiatives from 8 European countries were presented. Conference participants called for more synergies between these initiatives and to foster mutual learning. In Lithuania, for example, the Ministry identified schools with feeble or no international experience and placed them on the top of the list for exchange students to go to. The need to reach out to these schools and groups of the population was much debated among conference participants. Gerry O’ Sullivan from the Irish National Agency for Erasmus+ recalled that “you are not born with prejudices, you learn them.”

In Germany, 200 projects are set up each year under the umbrella of EmS. Within the last ten years, about 40.000 pupils from all kinds of schools experienced the variety of European cultures, discussed stereotypes and thereby got to understand each other. As an example, three pupils from the Stadtgymnasium Detmold in NRW presented their project set up by Russian exchange student Anastasiia Volkova at the conference, showing that despite globalisation cultures and their traditions remain national, regional or local.

The participation in EmS has also been an enriching experience for about 1,700 of European exchange students. Thibaut Jacques from France, studying in Germany and having done an exchange to the Czech Republic explained his motivation to take part in EmS in the panel discussion: “I am European. This programme looked like me. Pupils may learn the dates of the European integration process in school, but I wanted to teach them the feeling of Europe, through a hands-on experience.” In a German school, Thibaut carried out a project on French-German relations in the past (illustrated by World War I battle of Verdun) and the present.

In order to ensure more sustainability of ‘Europa macht Schule’ DAAD and the association are implementing EMS seminars at different German universities. Currently, students can earn ECTS credits for their involvement in EmS activities at three pilot universities.

Conference participants called for more EmS-type of activities in Europe and discussed how to best guarantee sustainability, financial support and a wide geographical outreach. One possibility could be the integration of such activities into the European Union’s education programme Erasmus+ or its successor programme. Who if not the European Union should support these activities? Although young people should remain at the center of these bottom-up activities, “institutional support is needed to multiply those activities and to sustain them in the long run”, explained Frank Wittmann from EmS e.V. Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Deputy Head of the Unit for Higher Education at the Directorate for Education and Culture at the European Commission invited participants to take part in the Commission’s public consultation on Erasmus+ that collects recommendations on the programme’s implementation as well as its future development. She underlined that programme activities, such as EmS, fit well into EU’s priorities that are, for example,- outlined in the Paris Declaration.

At the end of first day’s discussions, participants gathered to demonstrate their support for Europe and to take part in the DAAD social media campaign #Europabewegen / #MovingEurope. The balloons that went flying into the Brussels sky were meant to symbolise new ideas and developments for Europe, because – as Hanns Sylvester, Director of the National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation, Erasmus+ at DAAD put it:-“Moving Europe – because Europe is our future”.

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