Embracing the New Europe
A United Europe provides its citizens with unprecedented freedom of movement. European universities compete for students. International companies compete for outstanding professionals. The recently founded and widespread European Union Agencies recruit new talent to staff their numerous posts.
The nature of assignments is changing too, with an increase in outsourcing in all sectors. The workplace is more mobile and project-oriented. People work on shorter contracts, work part-time, and change their place of work more frequently.
This increased flexibility is a positive element for the economy of the EU and provides possibilities for international organizations to plan their management futures. European citizens now have real choices on optimal location for their work and retirement. Taking advantage of this freedom is a new generation of 'Eurotrotters': young, smart professionals open to frequent changes of work, location and language.
But this freedom does come at a price. There is less job security, less 'comfort' in being able to map out a secure career until retirement, and less protectionism of jobs. There is also the real impact on the other critical elements in achieving a balanced, fulfilling, existence: the happiness, security and opportunities of both one's partner and children. Success is not only about making a living. It's also about making a life. The bottom line is that Eurotrotters will 'trot' if the move provides career opportunities for partners and a quality, transferable education for their children. Parents accepting a move for reasons of personal career will think long and hard if they feel they are jeopardizing their children's futures.
The Educational Challenge
New levels of movement create new educational challenges in most European capitals: But how are we to meet the needs of the children of these mobile workers in a linguistically diversified Europe? What kind of international schooling should be offered in the European capitals to attract high level professionals? And what are we to say to those families that include children with 'special educational needs'? We cannot simply continue to turn away students with anything more than mild learning disabilities. Our challenge is to serve these regionally mobile families and to provide access to an educational system that meets a wide variety of learning needs.
Meeting the Challenge
The International Schools
The International School of Brussels, the oldest, largest International school in the European capital, is at the forefront of efforts to address this challenge. Driven by its mission of 'everyone included, everyone challenged, everyone successful', we offer structured ESL support, instruction in French, Dutch, Spanish and Japanese, language programmes in fifteen mother-tongues and a comprehensive support system for children with mild to severe learning disabilities. It also provides a programme of adult learning including a Masters degree.
In this way, our hope is to influence international schooling by providing an inclusive model of service to all students, and to a significant number of adults. However it does so without any government support. The resulting tuition fees are so high as to be a disincentive to those corporations, diplomatic communities and mobile individuals for whom it was established. Equally, the costs of providing a comprehensive service are a disincentive to other schools hoping to follow the Brussels model.
The European Schools
The European institutions have developed their own model, creating thirteen European schools, accepting children across the whole age range and offering the European Baccalaureate, recognized in all the Member States of the European Union.
The European expansion has had a direct effect on the population of the European schools in Brussels. Of the three European Schools, one accepted 880 new students in September 2006. All three sites are so overcrowded that the Board of Governors has asked the Belgian Government for the urgent provision of a site for a fourth school.
The European Parliament has engaged the European Schools to develop the process for accepting other schools as associated schools able to offer the European Baccalaureate. Submissions regarding schools in Parma, Dunshaughlin, and Heraklion have already been made, with others in the pipeline.
Both the international schools, with their inclusive approach, and the European Schools, with their 'one section per language' approach, offer workable alternatives that serve the children of the newly mobile Europeans. Both approaches have achieved considerable success. Both suffer from the lack of a comprehensive system and the lack of appropriate official recognition of the realities, educational and financial, of supporting learning for transient students of all learning abilities.
Until these realities are faced, the experience of rapid relocation will always be fraught with difficulties and anxieties, and the full potential of an open labour market will be compromised.
Director, International School of Brussels, Belgium
Chair, Board of the Council of International Schools
Director, European School (Uccle), Brussels, Belgium