Education can empower the future of Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

"In the beginning, about 4% of the students went back to virtual learning. In September the percentage dropped to 2.7, and now it's 3.3%, which is telling us that parents do trust the education system," said Ružić. [Shutterstock/Maria Symchych]

Establishing a European Education Area will enable Europe to lead the green and digital transformations, write Mariya Gabriel and Victor Negrescu.

Mariya Gabriel is the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth; Victor Negrescu is a Romanian MEP for the Socialist and Democrat group.

In front of the pandemic and of the upcoming transformations that our world will face, education can prepare us for these challenges. Our goal in achieving the European Education Area by 2025 is for education to empower people to make full use of their potential and to enable Europe to lead the green and digital transformations. For that, it is key to ensure access to quality education for everyone.

In this regard, there are strong synergies between the Commission and the European Parliament to say that education unites people and increases our resilience. Despite this fact, the global lockdown has shown us that we were not fully prepared to deal with challenges like the need to swiftly switch to digital and online education. But the situation pushed us to identify common solutions at European level, learn from best practices and develop new initiatives and tools.

The  Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 of the European Commission and the European Parliament report on Shaping Digital Education Policy contribute and offer a perspective on what can be achieved at European level in view of the digital transition in education and fostering innovation that suits learners and educators.

An important common emphasis of the two European policy documents is that we need to build a European partnership for education bringing together Member States, European institutions and different education stakeholders. The Digital Education Hub is the layout for the creation of a strong digital education ecosystem that can make Europe a global leader in the field. The European Digital Compass suggests as one of its principles the universal right to digital education and integrating digital education into the European semester can only offer a better overview of the situation all over Europe.

But to be clear, digital education is not here to replace teachers, it is rather a set of tools that, if used effectively, can help increase the quality and innovativeness of education and learning in the digital age. For that, the first point is to invest in the training of educators and the solution offered by Europe is to develop the Teachers Academies and increase digital skills at the level of all educational institutions, formal and non-formal. The Digital Opportunity Traineeships scheme is also now open to teachers and educators, promoting the development of digital skills through hands-on work experience. Later this year the Commission will propose also a Council Recommendation to support blended learning in primary and secondary education. The aim is to create a shared vision and understanding at EU level of how school education can support the use of a blend of learning tools and environments that is effective, inclusive and engaging.

The Recovery and Resilience Plan can be an adequate tool if the 20% for digital transformation are used to build on consistent reforms. Allocating 10% for education could be more than useful.

What we learned from the current pandemic is that for quality digital education we need adequate methods, tools, platforms, resources and high-quality digital education content and we need to invest in their continuous development. With the new 28 billion Erasmus+ program, the European Union plans to provide financial support for the digitisation of education, while at the same time take into account the risks and limits. As part of Key Action 2 Partnerships for Cooperation, Erasmus + will support digital transformation plans for education and training institutions at all levels. These issues are addressed already by the European Parliament and the Commission and should be integrated in an inclusive, tailored-made digital transformation of education. The one-size fits all would not work.

The issue of education feeds in another important debate about the future of Europe. Designing how we want Europe to look and act in the years to come can only be successful if we invest more in quality education and training. Building more resilience within our societies requires lifelong skilling and upskilling of people. Only by doing that can we build a stronger and united Europe. Education can empower the future of Europe and we should make good use of it.

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