Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

REPORT on shaping digital education policy – Committee on Culture and Education – Victor Negrescu



According to UNESCO, nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries – 94 % of the global learner population – were affected by the closure of education and training institutions at the height of the COVID-19 crisis with over 60 % of learners around the world still being impacted.[21] The same story played out across formal and non-formal education settings – crèches, pre-schools, VET colleges, universities, youth clubs and adult education colleges closed their doors and, in many cases, when the infrastructure was available to them, shifted online. Digital education was more than a tool; it became a necessity and a widespread solution to face the lockdown and provide education to as many learners as possible. This new reality underlined the need for a European approach to digital education and for the EU to work with global institutions and actors, like the United Nations, the World Bank and the Council of Europe, in identifying tailored solutions for the new challenges.

While there has been much innovation and remarkable creativity by educational establishments and their staff, enabling many to continue learning, the overall picture has been of a rushed digital transition, which has left those who were already behind even further behind. In some parts of the world, remote learning is virtually impossible to deliver. In Romania, close to 1 million children, representing 32 % of pupils in Romania, did not have access to education for several months due to low access to basic infrastructure[22].By contrast, around 90 per cent of high-income countries have offered remote learning, mostly online[23], but this still leaves 10 per cent of schoolchildren with no form of learning, with huge inequalities according to socioeconomic status. Research[24] has shown that, even in wealthy Member States, not all households have one usable device or an Internet connection. These are the bare basics for any form of online learning.

The pandemic has highlighted many other gaps in the digital education ecosystem. Apart from access in the first place, schoolchildren need teachers who are digitally proficient enough to deliver effective online learning and a ready-made set of resources for the online environment. Digital tools are useful for teaching and learning. But education requires more than having access to digital devices; it calls for an integrated approach, taking into consideration the psychological, social, pedagogical and practical requirements of teaching and learning. Parents are also key in guiding children online. Learners with learning difficulties or special educational needs require tailored support that has too often been lacking. Despite everyone’s efforts, the lack of digital skills among teachers and trainers and the shortage of effective teacher training in digital learning has been laid bare. Parents too have struggled, some because they lack the language, literacy, numeracy or digital skills required to help their children. Special actions, financially supported by European and national programmes, are needed to support parents and tutors in developing the skills required to help their children. Many adults and children alike have themselves been grappling for the first time with basic digital literacy, cyber hygiene, privacy and media literacy, data protection, cyberbullying and dangerous online games. Disinformation has also become a particular challenge during the health crisis. Again, the statistics are stark: there is a direct correlation between income and level of education on the one hand and a propensity to use the internet for information and education on the other[25].

On the one hand, therefore, the Covid-19 crisis has provided a compelling test bed for digital education policy and, on the other, has exposed myriad failings. In a working document published in early September 2020, your Rapporteur called for an update to the 2018 Digital Education Action Plan (DEAP)[26] that would develop a coherent and integrated approach to digital education, with clear objectives, financial support and a timetable, leading to a common approach at European level involving all relevant stakeholders.

Shaping a common European digital education policy.

In order to build a coherent digital education policy, we have to understand the importance of education in shaping the future of our societies and in driving a successful digital and green transition. Recently, the OECD stated that the lockdown has had a huge impact on education leading to severe training and skilling gaps that will generate a loss of productivity for individuals across the world, a significant drop in income and a reduction of GDP in the medium and long term that can only be overcome by more investment in education. Clear investment targets are therefore needed at EU, national, regional and local level. At least 10 % of the Recovery and Resilience Facility is needed to provide solutions to the current education and skills needs, while Member States should continue increasing their funding for education.

Despite the undisputed success of the flagship Union education and training programme, Erasmus+, Member States have hesitated to engage in further more intensive forms of cooperation and the lack of a true European Education Area has prompted mixed responses to education and training in the current COVID-19 crisis. The transition towards digital education has not been accompanied by further Member State cooperation on the solutions and tools used and funding for education has remained limited despite the growing needs of the educational systems. The new reality has pointed to the need for common quality standards at EU level that could enable us to build education systems across Europe that are inclusive and that provide practical, fit-for-purpose solutions to the digitalisation of education. It is clear that digital technologies harbour substantial potential for teachers and learners across education sectors and settings, enabling access to a range of materials and formats, and that these new tools are useful not only for distance learning but could also be adapted to enhance in-person learning. We need to learn the lessons from the pandemic to deliver full-scale quality digital education for all in the event of a potential second wave.

Digital inclusion goes hand-in-hand with social inclusion and this is widely reflected in EU statistics. Forty-three per cent of Europeans lack basic digital skills with significant disparities within and between Member States and based on socioeconomic status, age, income, gender, level of education and employment. These structural deficiencies can only begin to be resolved through a coherent, integrated and targeted European Digital Education Policy that has be implemented at a faster pace. Therefore, your Rapporteur urges the Commission to bring forward the date of publication of the various Council Recommendations on digital education to 2021.

Our assessment of the 2020 Digital Education Action Plan.

In December 2018, the European Parliament called on the European Commission to be more ambitious and develop a comprehensive digital skills and education strategy[27]. The new Plan provides us with a new, more strategic approach, but, in order for it to be successful, we need to ensure that, at the end of its implementation, digital education is a significant part of education policy with clear, consistent and positive results in terms of access and quality across the EU.

It is clear for the European Parliament that for any strategy to be effective, it needs proper funding. In this regard, we welcome that the Plan is aligned with the 7-year multi-annual financial framework (MFF) but would also call for better coordination and effective synergies across the broad range of programmes that support it, including Erasmus+, the European Social Fund Plus and the Connecting Europe Facility. At the same time, we underline the value of pilot projects and preparatory actions initiated by the European Parliament to ensure more Union-wide coordination to tackle education gaps between Member States. In particular, a recently adopted pilot project focused on improving connectivity in rural, mountain and remote areas could be a key starting point for a pan-European initiative to reduce the gaps between and within Member States.

A high-performing European digital education ecosystem.

Despite the lack of a European response, the current pandemic has shown the existence and development of a European digital education ecosystem with successful initiatives across Europe initiated by local authorities, entrepreneurs and innovators, NGOs and universities, trade unions and private companies, professors, learners, researchers and even parents. European society has shown resilience in the face of the current challenges and managed to generate innovation that has made us proud of what we can achieve together. The ICS Capozzi-Galilei School in Italy, for instance, developed a ‘Science Escape Room’, a virtual tool to provide students with an immersive learning experience and enhance science literacy. The Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona devised a mobile platform – ‘Student4Students’ – to connect high school pupils interested in IT careers with university IT students. The Institute for Global Digital Policies, at SNSPA, and E-Civis Association, in Bucharest, designed the first Romanian educational tablet, an adapted low-cost digital device with personalised educational content and secure digital learning apps.

But such positive examples need support to exist and scale up at European level. Too often, such initiatives have been ignored and the potential they foster at European level has remained untapped. The first step is to consider broadband internet a public good and ensure it is universally accessible. The same thing must apply to emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, gamification, new educational devices or blockchain. We call, therefore, for the creation of an AI and robotics initiative in the field of digital education. We also need to identify solutions for fast and reliable internet and quality digital education in educational establishments, in non-formal settings and at home. This means tackling all the difficulties faced for instance by VET institutions, which rely on hands-on training, but also to make sure people from disadvantaged groups, people with disabilities, lower-skilled learners, seniors and people from rural and remote areas benefit from special attention in order to increase their digital proficiency and get access to digital education. Women, too, need support to continue with computing and STEM studies and the enduring gender gap in the high-tech sector must be closed. We need to put our know-how and resources together and initiatives, like the creation of an Online European University, the development of a pan-European educational platform, the proposal to create Teacher Academies or the implementation of the European Digital Skills Certificate (EDCS), supported by European institutions and stakeholders, could be examples that enable the creation of a European framework for digital education.

Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Now, the world is changing at a faster pace due to the pandemic and new technologies. We are on the cusp of a new era for education. It is time for Europe to shape its own digital education policy offering all learners access to quality digital education across the continent and beyond.


Source : © European Union, 2021 – EP

Source and full report: REPORT on shaping digital education policy – A9-0042/2021

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