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President von der Leyen receives Empress Theophano Prize for the Erasmus programme

EU Reporter Correspondent

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On 7 October, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) accepted the Empress Theophano Prize, awarded to the Erasmus programme, during a ceremony held at the Rotunda Monument in Thessaloniki, Greece, which she attended via videoconference. The Prize rewards individuals or organisations who make an outstanding contribution to deepening European cooperation and improving the understanding of the diverse historic interdependencies in Europe.

Upon receiving the Prize, the president said she was honoured to receive the Prize “for the ten million Europeans who have taken part in the Erasmus programme since its inception” and dedicated it “to the students, the teachers, the dreamers who have made this European miracle come true”.

In her acceptance speech, President von der Leyen also drew parallels between the European recovery plan and Erasmus+: “Just as Erasmus was then, NextGenerationEU is now. It is a program of unprecedented scale and scope. And it can become the next great unifying project for our Union. We are investing together not only in a collective recovery, but also in our common future. Solidarity, trust and unity have to be built and rebuilt time and time again. I do not know whether NextGenerationEU can change Europe as profoundly as the Erasmus programme did. But I know that once again Europe has chosen to master and shape its future - together.”

Read the President's full speech online in English or French, and watch it back here. More than 4 million people will have had the opportunity to study, train, and gain experience abroad between 2014 and 2020 thanks to the Erasmus+ programme. Learn more about Erasmus here

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Education: Commission launches expert group to step up investment in education in times of COVID-19

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The expert group on quality in investment in education and training launched by Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel in February 2021 has met for the first time. The 15 experts, selected from almost 200 applicants, will identify policies that can effectively boost education and training outcomes as well as inclusiveness and efficiency of spending. Gabriel said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how critical teachers, schools and universities are to our society. Today, we have the chance of rethinking the EU's education and training sector, and put it back at the core of our economies and societies. Therefore, we need clarity and solid evidence on how to best invest in education. I am confident that this expert group will help the Commission and the member states to build stronger, more resilient and more equitable education and training systems than before.”

The group will focus on the quality of teachers and trainers, education infrastructure and digital education. Their evidence-based evaluation will help the Commission and member states to find innovative, smart solutions to current educational challenges. This work is key to achieve a sustainable recovery and complete the transition towards a green and digital Europe. The expert group was set out in the Communication on Achieving the European Education Area by 2025 to maintain focus on national and regional investment and improve their effectiveness. It will present an interim report at the end of 2021 and a final report at the end of 2022. More information is available online.

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French primary pupils return to school despite high COVID numbers

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Schoolchildren, wearing protective face masks, return to classes at Lepeltier primary school in La Trinite, near Nice, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in France, April 26, 2021.    REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Schoolchildren, wearing protective face masks, are seen in a classroom at Lepeltier primary school in La Trinite, near Nice, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in France, April 26, 2021.    REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

France sent primary and nursery pupils back to school on Monday (26 April), the first phase of reopening after a three-week COVID-19 lockdown, even as daily new infections remained stubbornly high.

President Emmanuel Macron said a return to school would help fight social inequality, allowing parents who struggle to pay for childcare to get back to work, but trade unions warned that new infections would lead to a "torrent" of classroom closures.

In the upmarket Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, pupils wore face masks and rubbed disinfectant gel on their hands as they filed through the front door of the Achille Peretti primary school. A poster reminded the youngsters to stay a metre apart.

"They're young, they need an adult to help them, but most parents have a job and it's burdensome to ask them to do the school work," said teacher Elodie Passon.

Middle and high school pupils are due to return to the classroom next Monday, when the government will also lift domestic travel restrictions that have been in place nationwide since early April.

The open-air terraces of bars and restaurants, as well as some business and cultural venues, might be allowed to reopen from mid-May if the curbs have sufficiently slowed the spread of the coronavirus, the government has said.

Some doctors and public health experts have warned it may be too early to ease restrictions.

On Sunday (25 April), the seven-day average of new cases fell below 30,000 for the first time in over a month, from about 38,000 when the lockdown began, though the number of COVID-19 patients in critical care still hovered near a third-wave high of 5,984.

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Education and skills: Commission launches public consultation to support lifelong learning and employability

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The Commission has launched a public consultation on a European approach to micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability. During the next 12 weeks, the consultation will collect ideas for a common definition of micro-credentials – recognition of short, targeted learning courses – and for the development of EU standards ensuring their quality and transparency. Within Europe, a growing number of people need to update their knowledge, skills and competences to fill in the gap between their formal education and the needs of a fast-changing society and labour market. Public and private stakeholders are rapidly developing short-term learning courses. ‘Micro-credentials' are a crucial step to certify the outcomes of these experiences, thus supporting people to improve or gain new skills throughout their careers and reaching out to a more diverse group of learners. Micro-credentials have the potential to make education more inclusive, and will promote flexible, short term learning opportunities.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “In these unprecedented times, our learning opportunities need to adapt. They should be flexible, modular and accessible to anyone wanting to develop their competences. Our European approach to micro-credentials will facilitate the recognition and validation of these important short learning experiences. It will contribute to making lifelong learning a reality across the EU.”

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “As member states strive to meet the target of 60% of adults in annual training set by the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, we need to make learning as user-centric as possible. Whether you take a short course in coding through a VET provider or learn a foreign language with a language school, your newly-acquired skills should be recognised throughout the European labour market. The public consultation that we launch today is an important step to put this flagship action from our European Skills Agenda into practice.”

The public consultation is available online.

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