Jean Monnet Conference “A Union of shared values – the role of education and civil society”, Brussels
Nearly 300 people (mostly Jean Monnet Community members) attended the annual Jean Monnet conference entitled “A Union of shared values – the role of education and civil society”.

Participants examined crucial issues of immediate relevance, not just in the EU, but worldwide, centred around the question: what can education do to safeguard the fundamental values and human rights that unite us, but which are currently under pressure, even more so after the recent terrible events in Paris?
EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics conveyed a clear message in his contribution Safeguarding open, tolerant societies in Europe – the special contribution of education: “Europe is facing very tough challenges. We need to join forces to promote tolerance, non-discrimination, fundamental freedoms and solidarity throughout the EU. We need education to lead the way, and we need higher education to act as a catalyst.”

On the second day of the event three working groups took a closer look at how education could upgrade its role, from three different angles:
– how to bridge education and civil society;
– education at all levels: when teaching about values and rights, what is most appropriate at primary, secondary and tertiary level?
– the role of the arts and the new social media as sources of inspiration for education.

Moreover these values have recently been put into question by a number of events and developments. Following the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris last January, the European Ministers responsible for Education and Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, agreed on a Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education, signed at the informal Ministerial Meeting held on 17 March,2015 in Paris. This Jean Monnet Conference was one of the actions supporting the aims of the Declaration.

Another key question was: how to teach fundamental values at tertiary level, if at all? Should they be part of the teaching content or rather the teaching methods? Regarding the former, the communis opinio amongst participants was that children should be familiarised with fundamental values at a young age, and that teachers should reach out to civil society to bring young people in touch with the meaning of these values – they should see its implications in practice. At the level of Academia, many participants pleaded for teaching methods allowing for debates, putting up questions, encouraging students to develop ‘critical thinking’, even whilst it was agreed that this can vary according to cultural backgrounds.