Health crisis pushes EU into era of digital education 

European Commissioner for Promoting our European Way of Life Margaritas Schinas, EU Commission Vice-President of the European Commission Margrethe Vestager and European Innovation Commissioner Mariya Gabriel give a press conference on the digital education action plan, the European research area, and the European Education area in Brussels, Belgium, 30 September 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The European Commission has laid out plans to boost the education of citizens in digital skills across the bloc, as part of a drive that it hopes will aid Europe’s long-term economic stability while the continent rebounds from the after-effects of the coronavirus crisis.

Presenting its Digital Education Action Plan on Wednesday (30 September), the Commission charted a two-pillared strategic approach to fostering digital education in the EU, including ensuring that infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment is of the highest quality for students, as well as encouraging the uptake on basic digital skills from an early age.

More specifically, as part of the plan, a broad series of initiatives will be pursued, including putting forth recommendations for distance learning for primary and secondary education, developing guidelines on Artificial intelligence use in the classroom, promoting digital literacy, and creating a European Digital Skills Certificate.

“Education and training have faced huge disruption due to COVID-19 and a quick shift to distance and online learning. The mass use of technology has revealed gaps and exposed weaknesses.” Commission Vice-President for Digital Margarethe Vestager said on Wednesday.

“This is also an opportunity to reset education and training for the digital age. 95% of respondents to the public consultation on the Digital Education Action Plan see the crisis as a turning point for the way technology is used in education and training.”

In another announcement on Wednesday, the executive also laid out its vision for creating a European Education Area by 2025,.

It would consist of a series of benchmarks across the education space in the EU, including offering more opportunities to study abroad, ensuring official qualifications are recognised across Europe, encouraging the uptake of foreign language learning, and giving everyone the access to high-quality education, irrespective of their background.

For their part, industry representatives welcomed Wednesday’s announcement to foster greater digital skills in the EU, with some noting that the crisis had only highlighted the necessity of cultivating better capacities in the field for the long term.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that digital literacy is critical to Europe’s economic wellbeing and societal resilience. The resulting lockdowns created the largest disruption of education systems in history,” Joakim Reiter, Vodafone Group’s external affairs director, told EURACTIV.

“Nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries across the globe have been affected and unless we intervene strongly, the pandemic will further deepen pre-existing education divides by reducing the learning opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, or persons with disabilities.”

Reiter added that Europe’s digital transformation will only accelerate as a result of the crisis, and therefore “it is vital that we create a holistic education and skills programme so that all sections of society can benefit. ”

Skills Agenda

At the beginning of July, the EU executive laid out ambitious new goals for upskilling and reskilling the bloc by 2025, including the objective of ensuring that 70% of the adult EU population has basic digital skills.

The announcement followed the recent publication of the Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index, which found that a large part of the EU population “lacks basic digital skills, even though most jobs require such skills.”

Moreover, the Commission’s recently published innovation scoreboard found that particularly innovation-friendly environments in terms of human resources were well supported by a commitment to educational initiatives at the tertiary level.

Both of this week’s initiatives are due to feed into the European Education Summit on December 10, which the Commission hopes will give EU ministers and stakeholders the opportunity to further “discuss how to make education and training fit for the digital era.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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