Education experts and lawmakers gathered this week in Brussels at the invitation of US software giant Microsoft to debate the role that information and communication technologies (ICT) should play in education.
The new generations of children use ICT on a daily basis at home, but not as much in school as they should in order to stimulate creativity, experts said Tuesday (22 January).
Some argue that this will become a problem for Europe's work forces at a time when young people are hit by high unemployment rates in almost every EU member state.
"Almost every seven-year-old who begins school in Finland comes to school with a mobile phone and what happens in the classroom? The teacher tells her to turn it off and put it in the backpack," said Anneli Rautiainen, counsellor of education at the Finnish National Board of Education.
Rautiainen was speaking at the conference "Youth, the key to Europe’s future" organised by Microsoft.
"So we are talking about an attitude among teachers. If they are not pedagogically trained to use ICT in all learning ... why not using the mobile phones? You can learn everything with them," Rautiainen stated.
ICT in and outside the classroom
The Finnish counsellor said her country's goal and vision is to become the most competitive nation by 2020, which means the government is focusing heavily on ICT and education.
Ninety-four percent of Finnish pupils aged 10-14 use computers in their spare time on a weekly basis. However, the use of educational technologies in Finnish schools is on average far from adequate in terms of quality and frequency.
Rautiainen said this could be one of the reasons why pupils' liking of their school seems to be quite low in Finland.
"We need to make sure that every teacher in Finland will get the proper pedagogical training to use ICT in all learning. In the current curriculum reform we are going through now, we are going to implement ICT in all subjects and learning. Learning takes place everywhere not just in the classroom," she said.
Sabine Verheyen, a German MEP from the European People's Party, said that there currently is a "stupid" situation in which school teachers have the necessary skills but don't pass them on to children.
They use ICT in their personal lives in a very intensive form, but when they come to school they themselves just fall back into the old tradition systems of teaching.
"We need to use modern technology. Just to say put it back in your bag is not the solution," Verheyen said.
More ICT with less money
The ongoing economic crisis is difficult for most EU countries and challenges schools to do more with less money and resources.
Ciarán Cannon, Irish Minister of State, Department of Education and Skills, said it is a momentous time in education globally, as technology is becoming cheaper, smaller and more accessible.
However, MEP Maria Badia i Cuchet (Socialists and Democrats) of Spain, where the unemployment rate among young people is around 50%, said the focus had to be elsewhere than just on the newest technology.
"It's true that we need our students to have ICT skills, but this is just a tool. What we have to leave them to learn and to know is creativity," the MEP stressed.
She emphasised that children are extremely creative, but the way schools in Europe are organised, not just in Spain, contribute to undermining this creativity.
"We have to put more emphasis on it. You can have all the tools and skills, but then you don't have anything to say because without thinking it will be useless," Badia i Cuchet said.
The head of the Educational Technology Department of the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute, Anastasia Economou, added that a critical approach is what needs to be taught as no one knows what will be the next new important ICT tool will be.
"Maybe the recession can really give us the opportunity to sit back and see what is really needed," Economou said.
Speaking at the Parliament event, Ciarán Cannon, Irish Minister of State, Department of Education and Skills, said:
"As always in the EU we need to look at the best practices in other countries. See what is succeeding in certain settings. Certainly look, examine, research and collaborate and see what we can come up with."
Anastasia Economou, head of the Educational Technology Department of the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute, added:
"With new technologies every one of us can become a creator of content. The content can be shared and published at any time. This requires new skills from our part and our teachers need to understand that."
Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft Corporation, commented on the event:
“Young people in Europe are facing an opportunity divide – a gap between those who have the access, skills, and opportunities to be successful and those who do not. Bridging this gap is a key concern for all of us, and we are committed to partnering with government leaders throughout the region to unlock the full potential of youth as a key driver of the region’s economic growth. Equipping young Europeans with eSkills will set the course for Europe to emerge from recession as a truly united and competitive global player based on a digitally connected society.”