Europe struggles with digital education


European higher education remains too conservative to adapt to technological innovations, said a Commission High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education in its report published last week (22 October).

The group, which was launched in 2012 to examine such challenges, makes 15 recommendations to EU member states about how to integrate digital teaching and learning methods in their educational curricula

Current learning systems are reluctant to leave behind conventional classroom methods and restructure the way universities and schools operate. Teachers do not have the necessary professional training to cope with new ways of schooling. The institutions themselves are poorly equipped with new technologies in order to deliver high quality, online education.

“Although Europe is starting to make progress, it is still lagging behind the US in using new technologies in our universities and colleges,” said Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland, and chair of the High Level Group. “We should capitalise on the strengths we have, such as the wide use of ECTS [European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System] credits to ensure that digital learning in Europe is recognised, accredited and quality assured.”

Students are also reluctant to enroll in online degree programs, as an alternative to traditional, classroom-based ones, because many online courses do not offer credits towards obtaining a diploma. In fact, one of the group’s recommendations to EU countries is that they recognise e-learning as a legitimate part of the educational system, and formalise it. 

The benefits of a digital teaching programme are multiple, according to the report. An online course not only can be adapted to the needs of each student. It also allows for immediate feedback to and from participants. 

The group’s recommendations come at a time when the demand for higher education is expected to increase. According to UNESCO, more than 250 million students will request entry into a degree programme in 2025, compared to 100 million students today. To satisfy such demand, universities and schools will have to start mixing traditional and digital schooling.  

“Europe is facing the challenge of coping with greater numbers of students, greater diversity among them, and the need to improve the quality of learning and teaching,” Commissioner Vassiliou said. “I am especially pleased that the new Erasmus+ programme, which I launched in January, will be able to support the implementation of recommendations by the group.”

Erasmus+ funds European projects that help students and educational institutions among others to train, develop their digital education and the use of ICTs. 

“It is key to move towards the implementation of new modes for learning, teaching and assessment, keeping in mind that the student population is diverse as well as students’ needs,” said Fernando Miguel Galán Palomares, Vice-Chairperson of European Students’ Union.

“ICT tools are a perfect opportunity to do so. The future of education is blended and student-centred.” 

The European Students' Union said in a statement: "ESU believes that a common European initiative should be developed to ensure and enhance the quality of this type of education provision, and the recognition of the achieved learning outcomes. Moreover, we all must be careful with other education providers, such as private companies, that are usually not subjected to quality assurance mechanisms,"

"ESU also believes that the group’s recommendations address positively new challenges that come hand by hand with the use of new technologies. These are, for example, the protection of student data or open access to educational resources developed with public funds."

Erasmus+ is the new European programme for Education and Training for 2014-2020. The programme is expected to benefit more than 4 million young people through different activities that will help them gain experience and skills by studying, training, and volunteering abroad. The development of digital education and the use of ICTs is one of the programme's top priority. 

Erasmus+ will also finance institutions and organisations to enhance cooperation among them and exchange best practice.  

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