Introduction & opportunities: 

Education is an important social determinant of health, as it helps determine potential future work and income, is linked to parental income and education (and therefore early living conditions), and the level of education a person attains is often a good indicator of level of health they will enjoy in the future.

Research suggests that investment in early childhood education can bring greater returns than investing in any other stage of education, especially for the most disadvantaged. Health and social benefits of education are not limited to children and young people, but lifelong learning can impact positively on individuals and levels of social engagement. Education and training also play a crucial role in the Europe 2020 Strategy and its targets.

The Commission recognises that high-quality pre-primary, primary, secondary, higher and vocational education and training are essential to Europe’s success, and refers explicitly to addressing educational disadvantages through pre-primary education in its Communication ‘An updated strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020)’. Following this Communication, member states agreed to develop EU level co-operation to promote quality and equity in the sector and EU level activities have been developed to address priority areas in each of the different levels of education and training.

The overall educational framework focuses mainly on school achievement, reducing early school leaving and educational disadvantage, but it also mentions promoting equal opportunities and the role of early childhood education and life-long learning in contributing to tackling poverty and social exclusion. Therefore, ET 2020 is supporting the improvement of the education and training systems of member states by developing EU-level tools, mutual learning and exchange of good practices via the Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) on Education and Training.

The Commission Recommendation ‘Investing in Children’ underlines the need to put in place comprehensive policies that combine nutrition, health, education and social measures and to provide children with a safe, adequate housing and living environment. It calls for more accessible early childhood education as part of an integrated strategy to improve children’s opportunities, in order to reach the Barcelona targets. An important aspect is the importance of providing good-quality education and care services and the ongoing co-operation between member states and the European Commission to develop a European quality framework for early years education and care.

Potential avenues of influence: 

The interest of many stakeholders active in this field is primarily on primary and secondary education and on youth. Insufficient alliances exist to bridge with the early years sector to build up stronger advocacy. Despite recent attempts to work on early years education and care at EU level by bringing together experts from member states, there are still missing links between EU and national/regional level developments. There is however some interest at international level linked with the design of the Sustainable Development Goals with regard to education, including early childhood education.

Moreover, under the umbrella of Europe 2020 and with the support of DG Education and Culture (DG EAC), policy dialogue and exchange about how to modernise and improve education systems and best invest in education and training by combining efficiency and effectiveness with growth-friendly impact, is being pursued within ET 2020.