Ladies and gentleman,
It is an honour for me to join you in this edition of Online Educa Berlin.
The diverse community you bring together, from policy makers, innovators and researchers to stakeholders from schools, academia and vocational education and training, has valuable experience to share in shaping the future of learning.
For years, you have supported the creation of new partnerships between education, business and government. This type of cross-sectoral cooperation promotes real change in culture and is key to finding workable solutions, including for current challenges.
Sharing experiences and good practices are key to success. And this is a particularly important time to take stock of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis and to talk about how technology supports learning now and will do so in the future.
I would like to thank you for the invitation to present my new flagship initiatives – the updated Digital Education Action Plan and the European Education Area Communication.
More than ever, we need to put education, including digital, high on the EU agenda. The public health crisis has had a major impact on education in Europe. It has exposed millions of Europeans to new ways of learning and teaching. And we are still going through a difficult period with a second wave of lockdowns.
The two Communications, presented in September, aim to help Member States increase the resilience and inclusiveness of the education and training systems and prepare them for the digital age.
They emphasize the need to move from disruption to recovery, while overcoming important setbacks that existed even before the crisis. I refer to challenges related to the fact that: one in five 15-year-olds does not have basic skills in reading, science and mathematics; more than 40% of adults do not have basic digital skills; only 39% of teachers in the EU are well or very well prepared to use digital technologies for teaching; and 58% of employers say that finding people with the right skills is their number one challenge.
We are also witnessing persisting digital divides related to gender, socio-economic background and urban/rural areas. On top of that, the importance of new advanced digital skills is emerging, and we need to address the current shortage of ICT professionals in Europe. Special attention should be paid to the fact that among the people who were working as ICT specialists in 2019, only 17.9 % were women.
To address these and a number of other shortcomings, we have set a vision of how to make a European Education Area a reality by 2025 and make digital education effective and accessible to all.
At the heart of this vision is the fact that education is the main foundation on which we build our future. It is a strategic investment in the sustainable development of society and the economy.
Therefore, there is a need for constant attention to education in a lifelong learning perspective, including upskilling and reskilling.
But let me illustrate how we intend to realise this vision by guiding you through some of the main elements of the two Communications.
First, the Digital Education Action Plan.
The crisis has made it clear that technology and digital tools can enable learning, but they can also create major barriers if equipment is missing or is unsuitable, if staff and students do not have the right digital skills or if accessibility is not taken into account.
Based on the lessons learned from the crisis and the extensive public consultation with responses received from 60 countries, the new Action Plan has two priorities. Developing a high performing digital education ecosystem, on the one hand, and enhancing digital competences for the digital transformation, on the other.
Addressing these two aspects of digital education requires ambitious policies and actions on several fronts.
The first priority includes the need for robust infrastructure, digital equipment, updated teaching and learning practices and new approaches to assessment. It also focusses on the high-quality digital education content, user-friendly tools and secure platforms that respect data protection and ethics.
Among the new actions, that I would like to see developed is a strategic dialogue with the Member States on the key enabling factors of digital education. It will touch upon various issues such as connectivity, educators’ skills or the dialogue with the private sector.
Second, it is crucial not to allow the digital divide to deepen further. Therefore, I will work on the Connectivity4Schools initiative, including with a special focus on rural areas. It is not acceptable that 10% of households in rural areas are still not covered by any fixed network and 41% by any fast broadband technology. This has to change if we are to have an inclusive digital education and bridge the digital divide.
Third, we need a high quality digital education content that builds on European cultural and creative diversity. This is why, I will launch a feasibility study on the creation of a European exchange platform. Europe needs to catch up and create its own common space to share certified online resources and link existing education platforms. We can also think together how to create a European digital education cloud.
Next, it is important to promote understanding of emerging technologies and their applications in education, including higher education. For this, we will develop ethical guidelines on artificial intelligence and data usage in teaching and learning for educators. The guidelines will be accompanied by a training programme for researchers and students on the ethical aspects of AI and include a target of 45% of female participation in the training activities.
The second priority area of the new Digital Education Action Plan focuses on enhancing digital competences. To thrive in a technology-driven economy, Europe needs a digitally competent workforce and a growing digital talent pool. Special attention is also required to digital literacy to make people of all ages more resilient to disinformation, and to help them stay safe and secure online.
We see that today all Member States face a shortage of digital experts, including data and cybersecurity analysts, software developers, digital accessibility specialists and machine learning experts.
Therefore, the new Action Plan will support the development of both basic and advanced digital skills, building on, for example, the success of the Digital Opportunities Traineeships. It offers hands-on working experience in companies dealing with digital technologies. This initiative has already provided over 12,000 students and recent graduates with basic and advanced digital skills through cross-border traineeships.
It is also true that the digital revolution can be successful if it works for everyone. This requires overcoming the continuing gender inequalities and making full use of the talent potential of Europe. With the support of the EIT, we will encourage women’s participation in STEM.
My intention is also to continue some of our most successful initiatives, such as the European Code Week, which encourages creativity, problem solving and collaboration through programming and other tech activities.
Finally, we are proposing to create a Digital Education Hub that can be a real platform for the Member States to exchange, link initiatives and encourage dialogue between stakeholders.
The second flagship initiative is the European Education Area.
Our goal is to make this common learning space a reality by 2025. Achieving this goal will provide citizens, including young people, with the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to participate in both society and the labour market.
We know that we cannot fully foresee the challenges that our young people will face in the future. We cannot teach them the specific skills they will need, but we can invest in those skills that will allow them to be resilient and adaptable.
Allow me the highlight some of the new initiatives.
First, we must continue to strengthen basic skills, namely mathematics, reading and science, but also digital competences, as well as transversal skills, such as critical thinking, entrepreneurship, creativity and civic engagement. These are the basis of quality education and the success of European society.
Through our new initiative the "Pathways to School Success", we aim at helping each pupil reach a certain level of proficiency in basic skills and minimizing the number of young people who leave education without at least an upper secondary degree.
Second, in order to improve inclusion in education, we also want to help those who need to transition professionally. We work on a European approach to micro credentials. It is important to make lifelong learning a reality, especially because most people, once they join the workforce, do not have the ability to pursue fully structured degrees.
Third, special attention is needed to vocational training because it is essential to link education and skills to industry and innovation. We are proposing the establishment of 50 centres of excellence in VET with Erasmus programme funding. These centres will become reference points for initial training of young people and up- and reskilling of adults.
Next, I will emphasize the importance of teachers and trainers. Among all factors in the school environment, teachers and school leaders have the greatest impact on students’ learning outcomes. Any policy effort seeking to improve educational outcomes is bound to take a close look at the role of teachers.
The Area will support the professional development needs of teachers by establishing 25 Erasmus Teacher Academies by 2025. They will act as hubs for developing new approaches, including in digital pedagogy, and strengthening the exchange of good practice between Member States.
In the area of higher education, we will engage in the full rollout of the European Universities initiative under the Erasmus programme. We have over 280 higher education institutions from all different parts of Europe participating in the 41 European Universities alliances.
The alliances put forward a truly multidisciplinary approach, bringing together civil society, the private sector, researchers and entrepreneurs. They will create a new generation of Europeans, equipped with the skills for the future. This new generation will work in different languages, and across borders, cultures, sectors and disciplines.
The European Universities initiative is also a concrete example of bringing together the strongly interlinked objectives of the European Education Area and the European Research Area.
For example, the Horizon Europe programme and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology will have a key role in supporting the research and innovation dimension of the European Universities alliances.
In addition to the transformation of European Universities alliances, we need to accelerate the progressive transformation of all higher education institutions in Europe. Such a transformation will focus on connectivity between institutions, but also with their surrounding ecosystems.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The source of Europe’s strength and resilience is in its people. Investing in people and their education and skills is of strategic importance, including for Europe’s recovery.
The two Communications, I presented to you today invest in people and promote high quality and inclusive education at all stages of life.
Together with EU Member States, the education community, businesses and civil society, we need to join forces and implement the proposed measures aimed at making education and training systems more inclusive, efficient and fit for the digital age.
Although not intended to replace face-to-face learning, digital education becomes an increasingly important part of modern education systems. Digital technology, when deployed skillfully, equitably and effectively can support high-quality and inclusive education for all learners.
It is up to us to find a way to bridge the digital divide and make technology supported learning and training successful for all.