Report compiles EU project results and offers recommendations for education policy makers

A selection of briefing papers for policy makers on the results of EU funded research projects in the field of education has been published by the European Commission. The papers, which cover a wide range of educational issues, each contain conclusions as well as recommendations for action.

The projects covered were funded under the EU's Fourth and Fifth Framework Programmes (FP4 and FP5) . In total, the projects involve more than 420 research teams from across Europe and beyond. While the scope of the projects is huge, they can be roughly divided into five categories: research on higher education; school-to-work transitions; new governance models for education and training; the use of information and communication technologies (ICT)  in learning; and education, inequalities and social exclusion.

Director-General of the Commission's Research DG, Achilleas Mitsos, highlights a number of broad conclusions in his foreword to the report. '[S] ocio-political demands and expectations with respect to higher education have grown,' he writes, and in terms of inequalities: 'While education has been seen by many national governments as a major tool for tackling the issue of social exclusion, European research demonstrates that the underlying factors involved are much broader and deeper than is often understood by policy-makers, and that any one area of social policy is unlikely, by itself, to be able to address the problem.'

One of the studies summarised focuses on labwork in science education. The project examined current practice in seven EU countries and found that the amount of labwork carried out during upper secondary schooling and the first two years of undergraduate study varies considerably. While it is performed regularly at schools in Denmark, the UK and France, in Greece it is only implemented at university level.

The study also found the objectives of labwork to be frequently limited and lacking variety. One of the many conclusions for policy makers to consider is that: 'Labwork should address a broader range of learning objectives than the range currently addressed. In particular, labwork rarely addresses epistemological objectives and teachers rarely make these objectives explicit when designing labwork activities, sequences of labwork or labwork sheets. Similarly, conceptual objectives, procedures to be learnt, data collection and processing are generally left implicit in the design of the labwork.'

A study on gender and qualifications highlights the necessity of a flexible workforce in the context of Europe's ageing population. Focusing on the UK, Germany, Portugal, Greece and Finland, the researchers were surprised to find that differences between countries were smaller than expected. '[P] ositive action of the Nordic welfare state does not lead to significantly different results, compared to southern Europe,' reads one conclusion.

On the other hand, the study also found that gender segregation in the labour market has not been significantly reduced during recent decades. A key message for policy makers is that 'The main efforts should be focused towards encouraging 'gender autonomy' in vocational education and training and continuous vocational training rather than trying to equalise the numbers of people from either sex in each occupation.'

The education of Roma children was the subject of another EU funded project. Researchers from Spain, France and Italy looked at the situation in their own countries and concluded that the 'education systems studied are not capable of dealing with the schooling of the Gypsy/Roma children in a positive way.' A number of issues are found to be responsible for this, falling under the headings of political, socio-economic, ideological, institutional and cultural factors.

Recommendations include the promotion of educational policies which address the EU's itinerant groups and the creation of infrastructures that allow these children to attend ordinary schools. Positive discrimination with regard to scholarships and catering services are also recommended, as is the dissemination of good practice among teachers and the avoidance of specific teachers for Roma children.

A study assessing the overall impact of individual projects on the impact of ICT-supported learning concludes that it alters traditional teacher-student relationships. ICT based innovation in learning was also found to enhance student-centred learning approaches, and to introduce a shift towards more collaborative and participative forms of learning. It is recommended that future research addresses the emotional aspects of learning in ICT-based environments and assesses the extent to which social and learning skills, self-management skills and other meta-cognitive capabilities are developed.

Funding is available for further research into learning and knowledge under Priority 7, 'citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society' of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) . 'I hope that researchers working in this area will use these opportunities to continue their enquiry into the role of education in contemporary European societies, through reinforced Europe-wide cooperation and the integration of disciplinary perspectives,' writes Dr Mitsos.

The full report is available from the 'reports' section at the following web address: