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Working for Europe – Celebrating Europe – Part One: Personal reflections

May 10th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday, the 9th of May, we (citizens of Bremen) celebrated Europe. As we know, the European Union has chosen this date as the Europe-Day. The background is that on this very day in 1950 the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman gave speech in which he outlined a plan to create a European community of producers of coal and steel. This plan was eagerly received by the neighbouring countries and soon led to the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC). Due to several waves of enlargement this closed club transformed itself into the European Union as we know it today. At that time it was not self-evident that the European countries – still recovering from the destructive war and still struggling with the neighbourhood relations – would be able to enter such a community-building process. So, there is a good case to celebrate this community-building process – looking back at the Europe before it was started.

Thinking of my personal career, starting from the year 1994 I have been mostly working for Europe and in European cooperation projects. Firstly, I was sent by the Finnish government to work at Cedefop – European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training – as a national seconded expert. This happened during the time when Finland was a Candidate Country and a member of the European Economic Area. The idea of the Finnish educational authorities was to send a national expert to get experience from the agency and to work Finland more closely into the cooperation. However, this period was overshadowed by change of management in Cedefop and by the high level decision to relocate Cedefop from Berlin to Thessaloniki.

The next phase in my career was when Cedefop moved to Thessaloniki and I got a position as a project manager (temporary EU official) in Cedefop. This happened during the time when Cedefop had lost most of its project managers (who changed to other EU services) and had to start its activities on new grounds. At this point I took a role in promoting European research cooperation in the field of vocational education and training (VET). On the one hand I started monitoring and accompanying European projects that worked with educational innovation agendas. On the other hand I started to organise synergy-promoting seminars in which these projects shared their ideas and results with each other. Thirdly, I initiated cross-project symposia and round tables at the ECER conferences under the umbrella of the VETNET network that was founded in 1996 at the ECER conference in Sevilla. Altogether, these activities and the related publication initiatives supported community-building processes in European VET research.

However, my contract was of limited duration and my activities were not considered as impressive enough or productive enough by all in Cedefop. Whilst the research community appreciated the ‘networking the networks’, I was confronted with questions, where are the results for Cedefop and how this helps to make Cedefop visible for all stakeholders it is supposed to serve. So, in 2002 my temporary contract came to an end and I returned back to Finland.

After a period of looking around and searching for new grounds I was invited to start as a project-based research at Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen. During the earlier phases of my career I had come to  contact with colleagues at ITB and during my Cedefop years I had intensive cooperation with them. From 2005 on I have been working at ITB primarily in European cooperation projects. And once again, these projects have had a community-building character and they have build on the earlier phase of ‘networking the networks’. So, in this spirit I have been working in projects on workplace learning, training the trainers, learning about politics, practice-based learning in VET and higher education. And finally, a major theme has been to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers in VET. All this has been characterised by ‘learning from each other’ and ‘learning for Europe’.

In this spirit the late Jenny Hughes created a Facebook account for the “Learning about Politics” project with the name ‘Learn Politics’. And since this ‘person’ had to announce a birthday, Jenny gave the 9th of May – the Europe-day. I think this was a good choice. When celebrating Europe, we celebrate the community-building processes across Europe.

I guess this is enough of my personal reflections. In my next post I will concentrate on the celebration of the Europan anniversary in Bremen.

More blogs to come …

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