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|N°14 - January '97|
Learning in the information society. The title alone defines the objective of this action plan launched by the European Commission in October 1996. Over a three-year period (1996-1998), a major campaign will help primary and secondary schools to incorporate new multimedia technologies into their teaching programmes. This is a challenge for democracy in a society where access to knowledge is becoming increasingly dependent upon mastering new information channels.
Europes families are fundamental to the education of its young people. But they are poorly - and unequally - equipped when it comes to multimedia facilities. Just 2% of French households have a PC equipped with a modem for connection to communication networks. In Germany the figure is 5%, in the United Kingdom 8% - compared to 20% in the United States. Consequently, only a minority of children have the opportunity of acquiring in their own home the skills in the new information technologies which are going to be increasingly important to their future working life.
Schools therefore have a vital role to play in effectively preparing young people in general for the information society. This priority is naturally in keeping with one of educations fundamental missions: in addition to imparting knowledge, schools must also guarantee equal opportunities.
Schools are also seriously under-equipped. Europes schools, both primary and secondary, are lagging seriously behind in terms of technology. Just 5% of schools had access to the Internet in 1995, compared to one third of all schools in the United States. But behind this global figure we find very different situations in the individual countries. Whereas three-quarters of schools are connected to information networks in Sweden and Finland, in France and Germany the figure is no more than 2%.
In many cases there is a lack of basic equipment. Less than 1% of Europes classes have direct access to a telecommunications network. In Ireland, almost 50% of schools in rural areas do not even have a telephone!
A European added value
At the Florence European Council, the call was made for every possible effort in order to speed up the entry of schools to the information society. The Learning in an Information Society action plan, adopted by the Commission on 2 October last year at the initiative of European Commissioners Edith Cresson and Martin Bangemann, was the prompt reply.
The plan aims to mobilise the financial resources of a number of Community programmes in pursuit of four main priorities:
Seeking to initiate a dynamic at European level, the plan seeks to bring together experiences drawn from throughout the Union, to speed up the creation of a genuine European educational multimedia market, and to encourage the private and public sector to join forces in the interests of education.
The first concrete result of this initiative is the call for proposals launched on 15 December (see box).
Alain Dumort, DG XXII
The "Educational Multimedia" call for proposals
Further to the Learning in the Information Society Action Plan, the call for proposals launched on 15 December 1996 is one of the initiatives of the Educational Software and Multimedia Task Force. The areas covered correspond to the four parts of the Action Plan. The total financing will be ECU 30 million. The Task Force will be charged with co-ordinating project selection and identifying the most appropriate programme for managing them.