Luxembourg, April 13th, 2013.
Former students from the European School of Luxembourg, and many besides from further afield, gathered at the site where, 60 years prior, an ambitious, idealistic, but wholly necessary step in Europe's recovery from the Second World War was taken. The creation of an experimental model of education rooted in principles of cooperation and supranationalism was unprecedented and pioneering. Our readers are the living results of that experiment,; he fruits of a tree whose seeds were planted over half a century ago but which continues to grow and branch out. We shall now trace the evolution of our school system, and judge whether or not the experiment can be deemed a success.
In October 1953, a private primary school was created, which would become the template for an 'intergovernmental secondary school', to be created the following year. The secondary school would be established, primarily thanks to the efforts of civil servants and parents in Luxembourg, to 'avoid families being separated', due to the multinational nature of the nascent European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and to allow pupils to 'continue an education which, based on the languages, methods and principles in operation in each of the countries of the Community, links them up in such a harmonious way in order to develop a great spirit of European cooperation'. The project received support, albeit somewhat skeptical,support from the ECSC's top brass, who were conscious of the traditional nationalistic approaches to education in Europe that dominated at the time. However, the aftermath of the first half of the 20th century demanded a radical, new approach to fostering a lasting peace and cooperation across the continent. With the shifting from nationalist to liberalist paradigms being accompanied by a wave of enthusiasm and support for notions of European unity and collaboration, the idea of a harmonized, European education could really start to take root. In this context, the European School of Luxembourg was created, in which children of the employees of the ECSC, be they from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and Luxembourg, would be educated side-by-side.
The Luxembourg project was highly experimental, given that it was born out of a political venture whose participants had been at war less than a decade earlier. It was also revolutionary from educational perspectives as well; the introduction of daily teaching of a foreign language at primary level, a second foreign language most of secondary, history and geography being taught in the first foreign language, as well as the less structured and organic cooperation and harmony fostered on the playground or in the cafeteria shaped an educational model which would ensure that pupils would learn together, free from prejudice, and help construct a truly lasting peace.
Such was the success of the experiment that it compelled legislators at national and intergovernmental levels to respond by granting the new model an official status and recognition of its leaving certificate, the European Baccalaureate. This shift from experiment to viable model, accompanied by the further development and consolidation of European intergovernmental bodies, such as the European Economic Community (EEC) and EURATOM, led to the creation of two more schools in Brussels and Mol. By 1963 there were six European Schools, all following the European Baccalaureate curriculum, spread across five European nations. The continuing growth and expansion of the EEC throughout the 1970s and 1980s increased the number of potential pupils, leading to the opening of another three schools, including a second in Brussels. The relative lull in European integration in the 1990's, during which time the EEC's economic foundations were consolidated with further political unity and cooperation with the signing of the Treaty on European Union at Maastricht. The enlargement of the Union to countries from the former Soviet bloc at the turn of the century, as well as Cyprus and Malta, which was the largest single expansion of the EU in its 50 year history, compelled the establishment of a further five schools, bringing the total to 14 European Schools, spread across six member states.
Today, nearly 40,000 students have obtained the European Baccalaureate and, according to European School figures from 2009, 1,400 pupils pass the final exam every year. A range of surveys undertaken have shown that the European School experience is one of significant value and benefit, both during but especially later in life, to the majority of its alumni. It is widely described as a melting pot and a multicultural learning environment, free from national prejudices and ethnic misconceptions; overall, an overwhelmingly positive educational model.
The most important factors to keep in mind from this story are the advantages our model of teaching provides, particularly in the face of opposition or criticism. As we have seen, the fate of the European Schools is inextricably linked to Europe's political landscape, and we, as alumni, must hope that austerity does cast its dark shadow over the European School system any further. On its 60th anniversary, we must remember the principles the schools stand for and were founded upon; those of unity, peace and cooperation, and help continue the spread of these ideals. We, who were raised on a platform of multiculturalism and tolerance, are the proof that the experiment started in 1953 in Luxembourg has been a resounding success. We must also make sure it does not fail.
Karl Sexton, Newsletter and Publications, Alumni Europae ASBL
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Further reading: "The European School: From post-war idealism to present-day cultural opportunity". Harry Van Lingen, 2012, Garant Publishers, Antwerp.