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ECNAIS : European Council of National Associations of Independent Schools

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Address from Simon Steen as ECNAIS Chair to the Round Table Freedom of Education and Freedom of Choice

European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium | 27 January 2015

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The ‘economization’ of education weakens European democracies. As a way to anchor democracy and social cohesion in Europe, the EU Parliament is urged to promote freedom of school choice throughout the European Union. At a round table on 27 January 2015 in the EU Parliament, representatives of 27 organizations of independent education in Europe discussed this urgency with the EU Parliament.

Address from Simon Steen to the Round Table

On behalf of ECNAIS I welcome the 34 participants of 28 organizations representing the diversity of Independent Education in Europe with a special word of welcome for Mr. Nuno Melo MEP, who is so generous to host this Round Table initiated by ECNAIS. For ECNAIS there are three main reasons to organize this meeting about the freedom to found educational establishments with due respect for democratic principles and the right of parents to ensure the education and teaching of their children in conformity with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions.

First of all it is our way of paying respect to the recently chosen new EU Parliament and especially to the members of the new Committee for Culture and Education of the EU Parliament. ECNAIS and the other representative organizations for Independent Schools in Europe want to share their expertise and experience in the daily life and practice of independent schools all over Europe with the elected politicians in Europe.

The second reason is the statement of the former vice chair of the committee for culture and education form the EU Parliament, Mr. Morten Lokkegaard, who was key-note speaker at the ECNAIS conference at Mallorca in April 2014. He was really interested in the practice and added value of the independent schools in Europe and stimulated us to raise our voice more loudly in the Brussels political arena.

The third reason is the success of the annual School Choice Week which started originally in America and was in 2014 introduced in Europe by AEEP, the Portuguese Private School Association. ECNAIS became enthusiastic for this kind of public orientated demonstration of the social value of freedom of education parented with freedom of parental choice. In the annual European meeting of independent education EMIE coordinated by ECNAIS we launched in June 2014 the idea of organizing a Round Table about freedom of school choice in the EU parliament.

Thanks to the inspiring dedication of Ms. Sofia Reis from the AEEP who is also Secretary General of ECNAIS we are now gathered in this meeting with a big variety of different organizations representing a colorful diversity from the independent school sector in Europe. These organizations will introduce themselves during this Round Table with a short power point presentation focusing on the values and pedagogical methodology of their private schools.

The Round Table will be moderated by Per Kristensen, the third member of the Executive Committee of ECNAIS. Please don’t exceed the given time for your presentation and maybe it can be of help if you keep in mind that it is always the first impression that counts in a meeting like this.

Let me to finalize quote some central paragraphs from the ECNAIS declaration about the freedom of education as a pre-condition to the right to education.

‘The public arena is no longer occupied by single players with dualistic and fragmented roles. Nowadays networks of collaboration and partnership strongly embedded in the civil society attract more and more citizens who share with each other a growing social responsibility based on diverse cultural, religious, philosophical or pedagogical convictions. Beyond the obsolete ‘public’ versus ‘private’ dichotomy more promising solutions and more convenient educational provisions are made available.

The original and unique local, regional and national combination of policies, institutions and programs (initiatives and investments) together with schools and teachers initiatives generate a variety in education enhancing quality. There are no children alike as there are no schools alike. The possibility to innovate and the diversity of ethos connected to autonomy, responsibility and accountability has shown that the independent education sector has been fuelling change and innovation, with its own knowledge and practical experience, throughout the whole educational system.’

ECNAIS will produce a coherent report of the presentations during this Round Table and the outcome of our recent survey on freedom of education and freedom of parental choice and will spread it among the participants of the Round Table and send it to the EU Parliament, to the Committee for Culture and Education of the EU Parliament and to the EU Commissioner for Education and his staff. In the next European Meeting of Independent Education in the beginning of June we will discuss further steps to promote the value of diversity in education in Europe.

I wish all of us an inspiring and fruitful Round Table in the impressive EU Parliament building here in Brussels. Let’s show each other and the present members of Parliament the strength, the contribution to the European civil society and the capacity to innovate of the independent school sector in Europe.

Simon Steen – Chairman of ECNAIS

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