There are good reasons to recognize study abroad during secondary school. But first, see Guillaume’s testimonial video on why an exchange year is important.
1 – Putting the learner at the centre
Learning mobility at school age increases independence, self-confidence, and psycho-emotional maturity; contributes to the acquisition of foreign languages; strengthens intercultural competences; stimulates openness to foreign cultures and decreases fear in intercultural encounters. The recently adopted European Parliament resolution on the role of intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity and education in promoting EU fundamental values recognises that exposing children to other cultures at a young age helps them obtain basic life skills and transversal competences, such as problem solving, creativity and initiative, necessary for their personal development, future employment and active EU citizenship.
2 – Providing equal access to diverse learning opportunities
While mobility in higher education is supported by concrete policies and measures, this is not the case for school mobility. Moreover, often the only pupils that are given the opportunity to study abroad are the ones that are already performing well at school, since they are believed to have fewer problems in re-integrating in school life and catching-up with their studies after the year abroad. This lack of equal access to learning opportunities is a concern for social inclusion in education. Recognition of different educational paths, including experiences abroad, is also a matter of including and valuing diversity within the school system.
3 – Making the European job market a reality, also for families
The current system not only affects the mobility of young individuals, but also the mobility of their parents. With school year(s) abroad not being recognised, parents often have to reconsider professional opportunities in other countries, since their career abroad may have a negative impact on the school path of their children.
4 – Supporting schools in the process of internationalization
With student’s mobility being promoted in political discourse but study periods abroad not being officially recognised by national law, schools are not supported enough by policy in their internationalisation. Moreover, with increasing school autonomy, headmasters and teachers are sometimes themselves required to decide upon the recognition of an exchange year, without any support or guidelines to enable them to do this.
This video by AFS France shows what foreign students can bring to their new classes.
5 – Improving the implementation of key competences in school education
The recognition of the school year abroad implies that education systems shift from a “traditional” content-based curricula to a competence-based approach, which recognises “real-world learning” and promotes the development of pupils’ attitudes and skills, in addition to subject knowledge. Studying abroad provides students with a unique opportunity to develop some of the much sought- after 21st century skills, which are transversal in nature, and therefore not always given enough emphasis in the ordinary teaching of individual subjects, and often not well catered for within the constraints of the formal school system. Policies for the recognition of the school year abroad are aligned with the objectives of the European Reference Framework of Key Competences (2006) and the recommendations of the European Policy Network on Key Competences in School Education (2014).