Does everyone in the EU have an equal opportunity to gain an education?

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Letter blocks spell the word "Study". There are books in the background.

Education is in itself, a Human Right. But let’s look at it as if it wasn’t… For the purpose of this text, let’s look at education as if it was a person and she has a best friend: Equality.

I come from a Portuguese middle-class family and, as such, both of them sat at our table as I was growing up. I believe I had access to quality education since I was a child, broad and free (free of charge and of political or religious ideology) and, apparently, equal. Once I finished high school I went to a good public university. For the first time I was expected to pay for my education, which my parents did, without question, because, if you study, you are rewarded with a good job.

Fast forward a few years...and I see how utopic my own vision of the topic had been. I’m not even talking about the fact that the “good job” that I studied so hard for never materialised… I’m talking about the differentiated access to education within my country but also within the European Union.

Fast forward a few years, two post-grads and several international experiences later, and I see how utopic my own vision of the topic had been. I’m not even talking about the fact that the “good job” that I studied so hard for never materialised… I’m talking about the differentiated access to education within my country but also within the European Union. 

I started seeing this once I started travelling and had an even bigger awakening during my Erasmus in Italy. Erasmus is amazing, because it allows you, above all, to exchange experiences with young people from all over the world. This means much more than having a couch to sleep on in countless European cities… It means understanding how where you are born has such an undeniable influence on whether and how education, equality and freedom sit at your table - or not.

In order to talk about equal opportunities when it comes to employment, one has to first address the topic of inequality in education.
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Young children sit in a classroom in Bulgaria.
Children take part in class in a primary school in the town of Shumen, Northern Bulgaria. Over 90% of the pupils are from the Roma community.

In order to talk about equal opportunities when it comes to employment, one has to first address the topic of inequality in education. Although all countries in the European Union have signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not all of them provide free and equal access to education. How can we talk about equality when in some countries students pay no tuition and may even have financial support, while in others, such as Portugal, Lithuania and Latvia, students are expected to pay from 900 to 5000 euros just for tuition?  If we address this situation and make it possible for everyone to study in spite of their financial or social status, we can start looking at how to reduce Youth Unemployment rates.

There are already different programmes that support young people to overcome some of these inequalities, such as Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps. They promote mobility as a way of learning new skills and developing soft skills, thus increasing our competencies and levelling the field when it comes to applying to a job. Nevertheless, these are still not widely recognised by many employers as valid training.

I stated my case: travelling and volunteering are as important as studying, and that was what made me stand out from the pile of CVs.

Changing mentalities is hard, and there is a lot that we can't control but if we start by, for example, including personalized recommendation letters to the Youth Pass, these might be taken more seriously by employers. Information is also a key factor, most employers don't know these programmes and that's why it's so important to find new direct routes to explain to them what it is all about. Recently my CV passed the screening process and I was called for an interview for a job that I always dreamt of having, and most of their questions where about the programmes I had taken part.

I was lucky I passed to the interview stage because I had the chance to explain how it worked, what skills and I had acquired, and how these programmes helped me develop key competencies for the job I was applying for. I stated my case: travelling and volunteering are as important as studying, and that was what made me stand out from the pile of CVs. The feedback was incredibly positive, and I am sitting at the edge of my seat waiting for their (hopefully) positive answer.

We live in such a fast-paced developing context, where it’s so easy to travel, so easy to study or volunteer abroad … We are indeed a lucky generation. But we would be even luckier if this was true for everyone, no matter their country or nationality.

Education and Equality should be part of everyone’s family.

About me: I'm 25 years old and I'm from Portugal. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in International Relations and a post-grad in Human Rights. I lived in Portugal until I was 21 and, after that, I started travelling the World: I've lived in Europe, South America and Asia. I've shared a hut with a tribe in the Amazon, taught English internally displaced children in Bogota, explored Southeast Asia and cycled across Kosovo... my travels taught me more than a thousand books ever could and made me who I am.

Children and young people are one of Europe’s greatest assets. For the European Parliament elections in May, Voices of Youth is running a special blogging series to ensure that the opinions and voices of children and young people are heard during the elections and by incoming European politicians.

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