Digital: Resetting education and training

The European Commission is aiming to reset education and training across all member states in ambitious plan to be finalised by 2022.

Preparation for the digital age, in the form of the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027), has been identified by the European Commission as critical to developing a fairer and more sustainable Europe.

Much of the strategy’s ambitions are not new and the core components of the Commission’s previous two-year strategy, including better use of digital technology, development on competencies and skills and improvement through better data analysis remain. However, core to the new strategy is that adoption of learnings brought about in response to the pandemic.

The Commission launched a public consultation of its new action plan in June 2020, outlining two strategic priorities in the form of plans to “foster the development of a high-performing digital education eco-system” and “enhance digital skills and competencies for the digital transformation”.

The EU Commission adopted the Action Plan for Digital Education at the end of September 2020 in response to the Covid-19 crisis, however, the expansion of the length of the plan to seven years from its predecessor has signalled an intention to not only address the disparities in digital education highlighted by the pandemic but also to put in place a strategic and longer-term approach to digital education and training.

The seven-year period will enable the plan to better align with the programme period of the EU and leverage various funding instruments such as Erasmus +, Horizon Europe, the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

UNESCO estimates that more than 1.6 billion learners across the globe (91 per cent of the world’s school population) had their learning affected by the first wave of the pandemic. However, while there was impact on a broad scale, undoubtedly the pandemic also served to exacerbate inequalities in educational opportunities. The EU Commission has recognised a greater responsibility to increase access to digital learning for every child, to enable them to fulfil their potential.

“The Commission is proposing the creation of a European Digital Skills Certificate to be recognised and accepted by governments, employers, and others across Europe.”

2019 Eurostat figures estimate that access to broadband varies significantly across EU member states ranging from 74 per cent of households for the lowest-income quartile to 97 per cent in the highest-income quartile.

Meanwhile, while this figure is likely to have increased in response to the pandemic, an OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey put just 39 per cent of educators in the EU as well or very well prepared for using digital technologies in their daily work, with the figure varying significantly across member states.

However, according to the EU Commission, experiences from the pandemic show that education and training systems and institutions that had previously invested in their digital capacity were better prepared to adapt teaching approaches, keep learners engaged, and continue the education and training process.

Fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem

The Commission has set out a range of actions in relation to the Plan’s two strategic priorities. In the context of its ambition to foster the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem, the Commission will launch a strategic dialogue with member states in preparation for its proposal for EU Council recommendation on the enabling factors for successful digital education by 2022. Specifically, the Commission will seek a Council recommendation for online and distance learning for primary and secondary education, with a focus on an EU-wide common understanding of how to make digital learning inclusive and engaging by the end of 2021.

The Commission is proposing the development of a European Digital Education Framework which it hopes will build on cultural and creative diversity. This will be aided by a feasibility study on a potential platform to share certified online resources and connect with existing education platforms across the EU.

EU reasons for action

74%–94% Broadband access varies across member states and is lowest in households of low income

1 in 5 young people fail to reach a basic level of digital skills across the EU

39% of teachers in the EU pre-Covid feel well prepared for using digital technologies in their daily work

60% of Digital Education Action Plan respondents had not used distance and remote learning pre-pandemic

Interestingly, the plan recognises that digital education and the transformation of education and training must not be solely student focused. Erasmus Teacher Academies are being proposed to support digital pedagogy and expertise in the use of digital tools for teachers. Additionally, an online self-assessment tool for self-reflection on effective learning through innovative educational technologies is to be rolled out for teachers.

Finally, the Plan points to action in the well discussed area of AI and ethics. The Commission has signalled its intentions to develop ethical guidelines on AI and data use in teaching and learning for educators.

Enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation

The second priority of the plan will see the Commission develop common guidelines for teachers and educational staff to not only foster digital literacy through education and training but also to tackle disinformation through work with a wide range of stakeholders from parents to media and tech companies.

The Commission also recognises the requirement to update the European Digital Competence Framework to include AI and data-related skills and to support the AI learning resources for education institutions.

Interestingly, the Commission is proposing the creation of a European Digital Skills Certificate to be recognised and accepted by governments, employers, and others across Europe. Below this, the Commission has set a target for student digital competence of under 15 per cent by 2030 for 13- to 14-year-old students who underperform in computer and information literacy.

Cooperation and exchange think tank

Included in the action plan is the creation of a new European Digital Education Hub which will seek to link national and regional digital initiatives and actors, while also supporting cross sector collaboration and new models for exchange of digital learning content, seeking to address issues such as common standards, interoperability, accessibility and quality-assurance.

The Commission says that the hub will serve as a think-tank, supporting the development of policy and practice and monitor the development of digital education in Europe.

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