EU programme for education, training, youth and sport

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In the spotlight: Quality in teaching and learning

Under the Erasmus+ programme, the merits of an international or skills-building experience are not only important for students, apprentices and volunteers. Our teachers and trainers can also benefit from exchanges that foster long-term pedagogical innovation. This in turn bolsters the teachers and trainers themselves, their fellow colleagues and learners, and society more broadly.

Through formal and non-formal learning initiatives within Europe and abroad, Erasmus+ encourages exposure, exchange and empowerment in teaching, training and youth work. The positive impact of its outputs can already be seen, particularly in terms of staff mobility and cross-organisational collaboration. For Alex O’Mahony, a primary teacher at Holy Spirit Boys National School in Ballymun, Dublin, participating in Erasmus+ staff exchanges was a ‘no-brainer’, and has ‘demonstrated how job-sharing or training in another European country can help fill gaps in national education systems’. In fact, more than 90% of directors at higher education institutions view staff mobility as an effective means for boosting best practices and knowledge acquisition among teachers and students. 

Cooperation projects between education, training and youth organisations, involving as well enterprises, are also key to making our education and training systems more relevant to learners and better tailored to societal needs. According to Slovenian Minister of Education, Science and Sport Maja Makovec Brenčič, the Erasmus+ cooperation projects have provided a platform for a multicultural discussion about teaching methodology. Reflecting on her own experience, Ms. Makovec Brenčič notes, ‘I really appreciated this opportunity because I could speak with representatives from different European countries about the topics I was teaching at the time, not just from an academic standpoint, but from a person-to-person perspective’. This focus has inspired advancements in applied learning and project management skills for 89% of participating organisations.

With the 2018 Erasmus+ calls around the corner, make sure you do not miss the opportunity to embark in an international experience and take your skills and projects to the next level with Erasmus+!

Read our spotlight stories from Erasmus+ participants

Gary Diderich – 37 – Luxembourg

Gary Diderich – 37 – Luxembourg

Youth – Spain, 2008-09

‘The Erasmus+ experience has deepened my understanding of all kinds of people from different backgrounds. This has continued to help me in my work, as I deal with lots of people every day.’

For Gary, the Erasmus+ experience was transformative on both a personal and professional level, helping him develop as an educational and social actor for change.

After co-founding a social enterprise in 2002, Gary was working and studying part-time in Luxembourg. This meant he wasn’t advancing as fast as he would have liked in his undergraduate studies. To accelerate his progress, Gary decided to take advantage of Erasmus+ and enrol for 2 semesters at the University of Barcelona, Spain, where he studied Philosophy while improving his Spanish.

Initially, he was moved by the sub-standard living conditions of the young people in Barcelona. Troubled by the lack of affordable housing for locals, Gary ended up becoming active in various student movements. ‘It was inspiring to see students refuse to accept what was happening and become politically engaged in society,’ he says.

Upon his return to Luxembourg, Gary resumed his work at 4motion with a renewed vision on training citizens to take part in their communities. Under the slogan ‘Education for social change’, the non-profit organisation encourages inclusion, active civic participation and employment assistance. Through tailored training sessions and forums, 4motion ‘train[s] all kinds of teachers, childcare agents, youngsters, and public servants to raise awareness about these issues.’

Since 2009, he has continued to innovate education through his role as an elected city councillor in his town

‘Holy Spirit’ project – Ireland

‘Holy Spirit’ project – Ireland

School Education – Ireland, 2016-18

‘Our teachers are now better trained and engaged, and it is noticeable that last year’s results from our first-year class were the best ever.’

Erasmus+ has enabled teachers at an Irish primary school to expand their horizons, connect with colleagues abroad and bring new ideas back to the classroom. Sending staff on training courses to the UK ‘has had a very positive effect on what we’re doing’, says Holy Spirit Boys National School teacher Alex O'Mahony, noting that ‘the feedback we received was that this was the best professional development many had ever had’.

The fact that some training courses were not readily available in Ireland ‘really shows how Erasmus+ can help to fill in the gaps in national systems’, adds Alex. As a result, new methods for improving literacy are being implemented, and the school is currently rewriting its English teaching policy. The impact has been felt beyond Alex's school: ‘if you take into account the networking that our principal does when she talks to the heads of other schools, then the reach of our Erasmus+ funding has been huge’.

Erasmus+ also enabled Alex to travel to Berlin to see how German schools are integrating migrant kids into the school system. ‘It was fascinating to see how this is being achieved through intensive language courses,’ he says. ‘We could think about applying this method for kids who are struggling in school.’ Alex is also thinking about a training course in Scotland, where new ideas for teaching Scots Gaelic could be applied to the teaching of Irish Gaelic. ‘This is the beauty of Erasmus+,’ he says, ‘you can take it where you want to.’

Maja Makovec Brenčič – 47 – Slovenia

Maja Makovec Brenčič – 47 – Slovenia

Higher Education – Cooperation among universities from 30 countries, 2009-12

I am a staunch advocate for teachers as a key factor in quality education that responds to the needs of students and our changing society.’

As an academic, a higher education administrator and a government official, Maja Makovec Brenčič, the Slovenian Minister of Education, Science and Sport, continues to champion international, multi-sectoral cooperation and openness as a key driver of quality education.

She witnessed this first-hand through the Consumer Behaviour Erasmus Network (COBEREN), which provided a platform to meet and share with higher education representatives from 30 participating countries. ‘For me, cooperation in an active international Erasmus network was a great experience from both a personal and professional point of view.’

For Maja, the Erasmus+ programme is about widening the scope of the teacher’s experience and cross-cultural understanding and, in turn, promoting transnational pedagogical innovation. ‘Higher Education must not be isolated within national borders. I am convinced that such high expectations and goals can only be achieved with national and transnational solutions’, she says. Her own participation in the Erasmus programme ‘only strengthened my belief that the international openness of education is a significant driver of quality’.

As a minister, she continues to promote excellence in teaching, encouraging young educators to take advantage of Erasmus+ opportunities in different academic and professional sectors. Whereas she previously viewed Erasmus+ from a higher education perspective, as a minister ‘every day I have the opportunity to get to know the programme, its activities and long-term impacts on all levels of education, on youth policy and grassroots sports development.’

‘European Astrobiology Campus’ project – Estonia

‘European Astrobiology Campus’ project – Estonia

Strategic Partnership in Higher Education – Estonia, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Iceland, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, 2014-17

‘Today, science knows that the Big Questions like “is there life on Mars” or “what is the origin of life on Earth” cannot be answered by one discipline alone. That’s why our project focuses on fostering interdisciplinary cooperation in the field of astrobiology.’

Established in 2014 by 10 higher education institutions and 2 non-academic entities, the European Astrobiology Campus (EAC) has created extraordinary opportunities for scientists, researchers and educators. With partners from 9 European countries, the project is able to provide comprehensive, high-level training; build bridges between scientists from different disciplines and at different stages of their careers; and increase the quality of education in the field of astrobiology.

During the last 3 years, project partners have assembled a strong team of trainers providing high-level courses and summer schools on various topics such as ‘Biosignatures and the search for life on Mars’, ‘Impacts and their role in the evolution of life’ or ‘Formation of complex molecules in space and on planets’ – just to name a few.

We have managed to bring together true science enthusiasts capable of working beyond the boundaries of their discipline. Some have already become leaders of important scientific projects’, says Professor Wolf Geppert, the deputy coordinator from Stockholm University. Drawing from teachers and former students involved in the summer schools, 4 interdisciplinary research teams have been established to investigate the colonisation of volcanic environments. Their research contributes to the search for life on Mars, and one of the teams has been awarded significant financial support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Framing the above achievements, the project has set a foundation for international training and exposure, with a view to future generations of scientists and researchers. ‘For young scientists, these are absolutely extraordinary opportunities’, says Prof. Geppert, ‘because it increases their employability and thus stirs up their scientific engagement.’

The impact of the Erasmus + strategic partnership already goes beyond funded initiatives to serve the wider public. With this in mind, some of the partners plan to establish a European Astrobiology Institute, with EAC as its training entity.

PEOPLE project – Slovenia

PEOPLE project – Slovenia

Knowledge Alliance in Higher Education – Slovenia, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Czech Republic, 2016-19

You have to engage with people and meet them where they are: instead of telling them, you show them.’  

To improve the employability of social sciences and humanities graduates in the European Union, the PEOPLE project (People-centred Development Approaches in Practical and Learning Environments) engages students, educators, business professionals and consumers. Through this interdisciplinary collaboration, the project’s underlying premise is to identify and solve real-life business challenges and collectively develop and test various products and services in the energy efficiency and sustainable living sectors. As Anna Kirah, a member of the PEOPLE Advisory Board, notes, ‘You have to engage with people and meet them where they are: instead of telling them, you show them.’

According to PEOPLE project coordinator Gregor Cerinsek, ‘We think that meaningful products and services in the sustainable living and energy sectors can only be developed with the people who use them.’  In line with this view, Gregor and his colleagues recognise the need for People-centred Learning Cycles so ‘students, teachers and researchers are directly exposed to the needs and requirements of the industry.’ In the Netherlands, for example, 4 students are helping the energy company Alliander map customer behaviour as part of its ‘natural gas transition programme’, which is working towards a smooth and people-friendly transition to a natural gas-free future.

Thus far, the PEOPLE framework has proven to be a win-win situation for all concerned, and a testament to the added value of the Erasmus+ experience. Students, teachers and researchers acquire new knowledge and entrepreneurial skills working with companies which, in turn, are training future employees.

Looking ahead, Gregor and his colleagues are confident that this cooperative inter-sectoral project approach will give European economies a competitive advantage, while ensuring humanities graduates have real employment prospects.

Borderline Boardgames – Norway

Borderline Boardgames – Norway

Erasmus+ Youth Project – 10 countries (Norway, Hungary, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Portugal, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Greece), 2014-16

‘We came up with the idea of developing an interactive and attractive learning tool to address financial literacy among young people.’

In the aftermath of the credit crunch, a group of youth workers spanning across 10 countries came together to address the lack of financial literacy and conflict management among poorer young EU citizens.

And so the Borderline Boardgames project was born. The project comprises two ‘high-quality game-based learning exercises’: Mission Z, an interactive board game which simulates a conflict management scenario, and Real Ideal, which is designed to train young people to think seriously about their finances as well as their futures.

In its early stages, a 5-person team from a small Portuguese village was engaged to craft each board game. Project coordinator Joakim Arnøy describes the 5-month production process: ‘They produced, sandpapered and painted thousands of the game pieces by hand’. Both prototypes were tested on youth groups, school classes and in international training courses across 8 countries, reaching over 800 people.

Today, the board games have been employed in a variety of learning and training environments: helping teachers make their lessons more interactive and engaging, in addition to providing a unique training tool to improve staff performance in not-for-profit organisations as well as corporations. In Lithuania, even banks have expressed an interest in using Real Ideal in their Corporate Social Responsibility Programmes. 

In addition to project outputs across the 10 countries, Joakim has benefited personally from the Erasmus+ experience: ‘To be project coordinator was a steep learning curve for me. It challenged me to step up to the plate and has made a big difference in my career.’

Jose Tomas Pastor Perez – 43 – Spain

Jose Tomas Pastor Perez – 43 – Spain

Adult Education – Slovenia, 2016-18

 ‘Students need to learn to effectively communicate, to express themselves, to process information, to be active citizens, so that their education transfers into their employability.’

Jose Tomas Pastor Perez is head of the Science and Technology Department at CFPA Mercè Rodoreda, a public learning centre for adults located in the small city of Elche, Spain. In this role, he has positioned himself as an innovative educator and a teaching enthusiast. Through participation in different Erasmus initiatives, Jose has come to view the model of adult education in a new light, one based on asking students ‘How can I assist you in reaching your goals?’  

Reflecting on his experiences, Jose sees his work as complementing and helping innovate school curricula, with courses that stress practical skills for the new knowledge society such as online job-searching techniques, creating online portfolios and social media recruitment. He has also introduced non-formal teaching methods into the learning process. For instance, at his centre students learn about science and technology by creating and overseeing their own science museum.

Preparing objects for the museum not only helps students learn about aerodynamics or optics but also organise events, conduct guided tours, and interact with the local community. That is much more beneficial than just sitting with a book’, he says.

His efforts have translated into tangible benefits for the students, securing their entry into the job market, their future employability and career development. While Jose’s contribution to quality adult education has been recognised by numerous awards, such as the ‘Miguel Hernández award’ from the Spanish Ministry of Education, this is merely a positive ‘side-effect’ of his efforts. ‘My main goal is to introduce new innovative teaching methods into the training process in order to offer better services for society. The Erasmus + programme helps with this significantly.’

QUAL4T2 – The Netherlands

QUAL4T2 – The Netherlands

Vocational Education and Training – Denmark, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, 2016-19

‘Improving quality culture ultimately means giving students a better education and better job options for the future.’

The QUAL4T2 project, which brings together 5 European countries, aims to improve the quality of teaching by sharing best practices, holding workshops and developing online guidance tools. While the first QUAL4T project, which ran until 2015, focused on supporting individual teachers, this follow-up phase is committed to improving the quality of teaching by supporting team culture. ‘Even if everything looks satisfactory on paper, negative team culture can make classrooms and staffrooms miserable, says project coordinator Margrieta Kroese.

Launched less than a year ago, the project has already delivered some 17 guidance tools, all of which are available online. The two most popular tools so far focus on raising teachers’ awareness of quality culture and strategic planning. ‘A lot of feedback from the first project was about activity planning, with many teachers asking for more help at the team level’, notes Margrieta. ‘Teachers are under too much pressure, partly because they are not always sure whether or not they are doing the right thing for certain tasks.’

By providing guidance on the professional development of individual teachers in a team setting, the QUAL4T2 project aims to instil a culture of quality in schools. ‘Invest in teams and ultimately the students will gain’, says Margrieta. ‘For educational staff, the real benefit is being able to identify an objective and feel satisfaction from achieving it.’

‘Puppets mission: childhood without borders’ project – Lithuania

‘Puppets mission: childhood without borders’ project – Lithuania

Strategic Partnership in School Education – Lithuania, FYRM, Italy, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Romania, 2014-16

‘Art is an amazing educational tool. It engages children intellectually, emotionally, physically and socially. It makes the whole educational process more fun and enriching.’

Travelling puppets, cultural activities, education through drama, dance, computer games and other artistic media – all of these components contributed to the Puppets mission: childhood without borders project. Involving 8 kindergarten facilities from different European countries, the project aimed to encourage preschool teachers to integrate new, under-utilised teaching strategies (e.g. play, drama, experiments, music) into the educational programmes for school children ages 3-7 years old.

We often see that teachers tend to avoid crossing the “safe circle” of traditional teaching, which views preschool education as less important than basic school education. We wanted to challenge that attitude and improve the quality of our teaching’, says Jolanta Varanavičienė, project coordinator from Žilvitis, a Lithuanian kindergarten.

Project activities revolved around using traditional puppets to promote cultural and pedagogical exchanges among the partner countries. These puppets were sent from one partner to another, with tasks related to the culture of each country. Children performed the tasks: from drama and dance exercises, to computer games and other activities. Complementing student engagement, teachers took part in transnational training sessions dedicated to studying new educational approaches and best practices.

Overall, the project championed the arts in driving pedagogical innovation, and as a result, new teaching strategies have been implemented in the everyday operations of the participating facilities. ‘The creative arts give children an opportunity to cooperate, to create together and to find a way to effectively represent ideas, events or feelings. It stimulates their overall development.’

Stasele Riškienė – 42 – Lithuania

Stasele Riškienė – 42 – Lithuania

School Education – Finland, Austria, Greece, Italy and Spain, 2013–15

Each project pushed me forward, giving me tools, ideas, inspirations and new contacts so that I could become a better teacher and work to improve the quality of education in my school.’

Interactive learning materials, online quizzes and exams, secure school social networks – ICT tools have shaped the way we think about and promote education in the 21st century. Thanks to Stasele Riškienė, an English language teacher from the Kuršėnų Pavenčiai School, mobile learning has become a reality for pupils in Lithuania.

After becoming familiar with different applications through Erasmus+ educational projects, Stasele was one of the first in the country to introduce smart devices into her teaching. She saw the potential of different applications for tracking and improving the performance of both teachers and students. ‘E-books, interactive exercises, assisting kids with disabilities – these are just a few examples of how ICT technologies may be used in education’, she says.

Today, as an Apple education trainer and eTwinning ambassador, she provides teachers from all around the country with training and assistance in introducing ICT tools into their teaching plans. She also runs a blog to reach out to teachers and promote smart learning and encourage participation in international exchanges. In her own words, ‘international exchanges have also helped us to give our teaching a European dimension’, adding that ‘This is very important as we are part of a united Europe.’ Her hard work has earned her the Teacher of the Year award from the Lithuanian Ministry of Education and Science.  

For Stasele, the Erasmus+ experience has informed her view of education more generally. ‘School should be more about helping kids get to know the world instead of locking them in four walls. The more engaging the educational process is, the better outcomes we get.’ In her particular profession, the added value of Erasmus+ for teachers is wide-reaching: ‘Improving the language skills of educational staff and pupils, gaining intercultural competences and broadening the scope of teaching techniques and methodologies are just some of the benefits.’ 

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