Promoting digital skills and competences has long been one of the EU’s objectives; however, the Coronavirus crisis has once again clearly confirmed the urgency of appropriate measures. The intention is to give special support to disadvantaged groups of the population whilst at the same time avoiding that already existing gaps widen even more.
In the education sector too, the Coronavirus crisis gave digitalisation an enormous boost. Many schools, universities and other education facilities only had very little time to move their lessons online. This was a great challenge for many – pupils (and their parents and care persons respectively) and teachers – and a huge reorientation for all. One can assume, that these developments will be long term, both with regard to education and at work. In order to prepare EU citizens better for the challenges ahead, the Commission strongly focusses on education and training, which convey those competences and skills, which become increasingly more necessary but, however, many citizens are still lacking.
Digital Education Action Plan
In its adjusted Work Programme 2020, the Commission announces an update of the Digital Education Action Plan for the third quarter. The Action Plan, which was presented in 2018, shall prepare EU citizens “to make the most of the opportunities and meet the challenges of a fast-moving, globalised and interconnected world.” The Commission set out three priorities: Making better use of digital technology for teaching and learning, developing relevant digital competences and skills for the digital transformation and improving education through better data analysis and foresight. The revised Action Plan shall also take the experiences from the Coronavirus crisis into account and – according to Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth – also drive forward inclusion and (above all) gender equality. To learn as much as possible from the experiences of the Coronavirus crisis, the Commission has also launched a public consultation, which runs until 4 September 2020.
Study on the role of (digital) competences
In a recently published Study by the Directorate‑General for Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), the authors are dealing with the question whether digital skills are actually enough to face the challenges of digitalisation. The authors come to the conclusion that the existence of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills has a strong positive influence on labour productivity. Whilst cognitive skills – arithmetic, reading and writing as well as digital skills – are still important, there is now a greater need for non-cognitive skills such as adaptability, communication and cooperation skills and critical thinking. Hence, digital change would require a policy, which would promote fundamental skills and life-long learning and strengthen the link between education, training and employment. Whilst education and training mainly fall under the responsibility of Member States, the EU could give its support above all by promoting cooperation and the exchange of “best-practice” examples as well as by giving targeted financial backing.
Special focus on disadvantaged groups
Unfortunately, the Coronavirus crisis has widened the gap between privileged and disadvantaged groups (also) in education. On the one hand, there are big differences regarding the possibilities of parents to support their children in home schooling. This might depend on their time available, their language skills or their own educational qualification. However, material factors are also playing a role: do children have a suitable place for learning and do they have the relevant technical resources – such as a Laptop, a printer and an Internet connection? Without supportive measures, the current situation and the fact that according to education experts digital learning will become increasingly more important in future will result in the fact that children from disadvantaged homes will fall back even further. This requires urgent counter measures.
As early as 2018, the Chamber of Labour had stressed the importance of digital competences and qualifications to be able to take part in society and the labour market. Even then, the AK had demanded the increased support of socially disadvantaged young people as well as concrete measures in respect of training and further education. In particular, in view of recent developments, the focus of such measures must increasingly be on disadvantaged groups. They have to be provided with relevant equipment, supported (socio)pedagogically and relieved. Only then will it be possible to reduce the ever widening gap between privileged and disadvantaged households and to avoid that people will be left behind in the course of the digital transformation.