The first European Education Summit took place on 25 January 2018 in Brussels. As a follow-up to the Social Summit in Gothenburg its aim was to launch an inclusive educational area, built on European values. Last week, the European Commission already presented some new initiatives within the scope of the “Future of Learning” package.
Taking part in the first European Education Summit in Brussels, Tibor Navracsics, EU Commissioner for Education, emphasised that education was once again occupying the top spot on the EU Agenda. During the past years, this had not always been the case; however, the European Social Summit in Gothenburg had not only set a clear signal for a more social Europe, but had also laid the foundation stone for a common European Education Area.
Only two months after the Gothenburg Summit, where participants had still pondered about the key role of education with regard to strengthening a European identity, the European Commission presented first initiatives to improve the key competences of European Citizens. These shall convey common values as well the European dimension of education, reduce socio-economic imbalances and at the same time drive forward Europe's competitiveness. At the core is a Digital Education Action Plan.
Taking a closer look at the Commission figures, such an Action Plan is urgently needed: 90 percent of future jobs require digital competences. However, 44 percent of Europeans are even lacking the most basic digital skills. Apart from that, a significant gender gap has become apparent: only 20 percent of IT jobs are filled by women. There are also significant differences when it comes to accessing broadband in the regions, which, after all is the basic technical requirement for a digital “race to catch up”.
Digital Education Action Plan
Hence, there is a lot to do. As a result, the Digital Education Action Plan focusses on three priorities: Priority One refers to improving the use of digital technologies when teaching and learning. This also includes the launch of an online tool - SELFIE -, which shall assist education facilities to use new technologies in a competent and self-organised way. Priority Two aims at the development of digital skills in order to better master the digital transformation. In particular girls and women should be helped to develop an interest in programming, for example within the scope of the EU Code Week. However, the Plan also includes measures to increase awareness of online security and resilience against cyberbullying. Finally, Priority Three concentrates on improving the education system by improved data analysis and prognoses. In future, the improved evaluation of already existing data shall enable a better anticipation of future trends of the digital change for education systems.
In order to ensure this, it is necessary for education facilities to fulfil the needed digital conditions: broadband has still not developed to the degree needed; the gap between individual Member States is vast. The Commission regards a lack of knowledge with regard to promotion options as a reason for education facilities not being connected; hence it wants to launch an information offensive.
The chances, which digitalisation holds for the education sector are enormous. However, one hope has so far not been fulfilled: this education potential does still not reach all people in the same way; there is not only a gap between Member States but also within: digital education has a strongly selective character. The “Digital Divide” describes the digital education gap between groups of the population or social classes. The Chamber of Labour has published a Study, which finds that people with higher formal education find it easier to obtain and use digital innovations and information than those with lower education standards. In particular people, who have not grown up with the new media, often lack the confidence and think that they cannot keep up with current technical developments. Hence, many people are unable to benefit from the opportunities digitalisation has to offer: for example, in many cases older employees do not dare to engage in further education when courses exclusively involve E-Learning and working and taking exams on the computer. Hence, it is of great importance that digitalisation does not forget those who are already in work.
Strengthening common values
The Package also contains a Recommendation on promoting common values, inclusive education, and the European dimension of teaching. EU Member States are increasingly confronted with an increase in populism, racisms, nationalism, discrimination and the increasing spreading of “Fake News”. These tendencies undermine social cohesion, prevent the creation of a feeling of belonging and weaken the trust of citizens in public institutions and democracy. The Commission has also noticed that many EU Citizens still not know how the European Union works and what it stands for. Education plays a decisive role if these tendencies are to be reversed.
The AK will continue to observe the Commission’s initiatives and contribute to the discussion at European level. The opportunities of digitalisation have to be used to improve the learning, living and working conditions of all employees.