Equity is the determinant that assures the quality of education for all learners, regardless of their background, and is seen as an essential part of ensuring social justice. Despite efforts to develop education systems fit for all, efforts at including vulnerable students into education across Europe are still stalling. The fast-changing global climate requires speedy adjustments at the school level, which are not sufficiently incentivised. European classrooms are also increasingly heterogeneous, while many teachers remain ill-prepared for the challenge.
Given that vulnerable students are at risk of ‘falling behind’, innovative practices in education have the potential to address the needs of contemporary learners. Making education systems flexible and interactive, employing new approaches to learning and teaching, re-examining the traditional roles and players in education, as well as opening education up to a broader range of stakeholders and communities – all of these practices are increasingly employed in European classrooms. Doing so improves learning outcomes, enhances equality and equity, and stimulates increased efficiency in the provision of education. Innovative practices also linked to the introduction of technology in the classroom that makes learning interesting and engaging, and helps to build technology-based skills that prepare students for the future. However, teachers often remain unable to find a feasible way to use technology to support pedagogical change, mostly due to a lack of digital skills.
To ensure vulnerable students have access to education, targeted programmes that focus on equitable and high-quality early childhood education and care, as well as on primary education, are increasingly prevalent. Evidence shows that early intervention programmes targeting disadvantaged children exhibit strong potential for increasing equity.
The growing diversity of European classrooms has also led to the introduction of innovative practices in education, such as intercultural and multilingual teaching. Both teachers and students are motivated to develop soft skills in relation to the range of beliefs, cultural and socioeconomic differences within European populations.
The lack of equity in education can be further ameliorated by incentivising good governance in schools at a central level. To promote this, funding is being distributed to help promote innovation and positively impact the quality of education provision. Financial incentives are being supplemented by forward-looking policy frameworks that promote distributed leadership in school governance, and schools are increasingly being given autonomy backed by accountability mechanisms.
Equity must be achieved at the earliest stages of education. Policymakers should therefore consider setting targets for equity early on in a child’s education, to avoid low school attainment and dropout. As part of this process, education systems should provide personalised support to students at risk of ‘falling behind’. The process should also take into account the increasing diversity of European classrooms.
Innovative practices in education should be promoted that are based on interactive, learner-centred approaches. Policy makers should recognise that innovation-friendly climate can be promoted in schools by offering financial incentives, and through the delegation of governance to schools. Furthermore, flexible financial incentives need to be considered to promote experimentation with innovative practices in education.
Research shows that ‘one size fits all’ policies and approaches do not suit the specific needs of every context. Instead, solutions must be flexible and should take into account the needs of local populations and communities.