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Education and new technologies

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1) OBJECTIVE

To take stock of the current situation and progress made in the years 1996-1999 in applying new technologies to education in the European Union, to identify the main challenges and to make recommendations for priority action with a view to a Community initiative in the year 2000.

2) COMMUNITY MEASURES

Report of 27 January 2000 from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: "Designing tomorrow's education - Promoting innovation with new technologies".

3) CONTENTS

Since information and communication technologies (ICT) affect society at all levels, from work to private life, it is vital to analyse and anticipate the implications for education. Introducing ICT in this sphere is essentially a question of teaching methods rather than equipment.

The efforts made in the last two decades to introduce PCs in schools have met with limited success. The lessons must be thoroughly learnt so that the same mistakes are not made again. One problem is that education and technology function on very different timescales: while it is an inherent feature of technological tools that they must be constantly renewed, education is a long-term process. It must therefore cope with the immaturity and instability of expensive technology. This report therefore advocates strategies which are consistent over time.

Besides obsolescence, a further problem is the limitations of the software available for educational purposes. Educational software must meet much greater requirements than computer games or office automation tools such as word processing and spreadsheets. However, falling costs and the widespread availability of Internet should soon allow the use of ICT in education to take off.

In terms of infrastructure, this will depend on lower communication costs and faster and more reliable access. Present-day infrastructure does not satisfy these requirements and must therefore be improved. The persistent gap between telecommunications charges in the USA and in Europe, and hence in network utilisation costs, cannot remain as wide as it is without stunting the development of the European educational system.

The Internet does not necessarily provide the kind of information needed by the education system. Whereas education requires high-quality, consistent information, the Internet gives access to a virtually unlimited amount of information of varying interest, which therefore has to be sorted. In addition to worthwhile content, the best educational and training sites will also have to provide facilities to avoid the user's being swamped by the mass of information.

Care will also have to be taken to ensure that these sites adopt high ethical standards, avoiding improper use of personal data, exposure of users to advertising or purely commercial use.

It remains difficult to form a clear picture of the day-to-day use of ICT in education. The report points out that the data available are still rudimentary and that reliable quantitative and qualitative indicators are needed as quickly as possible at European level. Methods should also be developed for scientific investigation of the link between ICT investment and school performance. Despite the lack of statistics, the report does succeed in demonstrating that there are large differences between Member States. User/computer ratios in particular regions are of limited significance since the type of computer, the type of connection and the way the computer is used are as important if not more.
An analysis of the situation seems to indicate that most progress has been made in primary education, whereas there are still major barriers to the use of ICT at the secondary level.

Far from replacing traditional teaching, educational use of ICT enhances it, by fostering curiosity, discovery and experimentation. Major changes are needed in the role of teachers and their expertise needs to be developed by regular use of the computer, teamwork and comparing notes among colleagues.

The spread of ICT across all subject areas - and in particular cross-curricular use in interdisciplinary projects - is impeded by the lack of recognised methods for assessing and certifying skills. This seems to be a basic need. It is suggested, in line with the Commission's Communication "Strategies for Employment in the Information Society", that special accreditation schemes be established for teacher training in the use of ICT.

Technological development is tending to push the market for educational software in two directions. On the one hand, software development and marketing costs (due e.g. to the expertise required of product designers or the intellectual property regime) favour a market dominated by a few large players - with a consequent need for supervision by the public authorities to ensure access to information. On the other hand, since connection costs will become negligible in the medium term, the "free" creation of software may open up even greater opportunities for creators who do not conform to market logic. The public authorities should give recognition and encouragement to such developments.

At Community level, a twin-track approach is being pursued. Some projects stress the arrangement of similar experiments in different Member States and exchange of information on them, whereas others emphasise specifically European experiments based on collaborative work. With regard to strategy, the report emphasises that a dynamic market in European educational software will not really get off the ground without viable economic models. The European approach will thus have to involve local authorities and a measure of freedom for establishments to take their own decisions, since they have great innovatory potential.
It will be necessary to accommodate projects on different scales, ranging from the smallest - at establishment level - the largest, e.g. a coordinated scheme involving several Member States.

To develop the use of ICT, training must be provided on several planes:

  • instruction in use of the tools, so that potential users are no longer deterred by the technology;
  • alignment with teaching practice;
  • setting ICT in context in relation to subject areas.

Secondary school teachers have often chosen their profession because of their dedication to a subject area. It is therefore understandable if they have no great interest in training which is centred exclusively on the technical tools rather than their subject.
There will inevitably be a move towards career-long training for teachers, which will provide opportunities to make them aware of new teaching tools.

Great caution is needed in dealing with the upheaval which ICT is causing in the educational world, and many pilot schemes will therefore be required. These will make it possible to specify the new skills required in the educational professions.

In its recommendations for priority action, the report first underlines the need to make the best use of a store of knowledge which is constantly being updated. This requires three types of across-the-board action:

  • continuous monitoring of practice, which implies developing reliable indicators and robust collection and analysis procedures;
  • pooling of experience, which depends e.g. on the specification of quality criteria;
  • joint development of prospective scenarios in order to provide decision-makers with pointers and information on the options available and to guide their strategic thinking.

In order to manage and promote innovation, the report stresses the need for a continuing research effort and a structured debate on the education of the future. A further recommendation is to emphasis language skills, the use of ICT in teaching and European cooperation to promote a shared vision and joint action which will allow the gradual establishment of a virtual European education area.

The potential benefits of ICT must be made available to all and care must therefore be taken to ensure that access is as equitable as possible.

The first annex to the report describes the Member States' ICT initiatives, while the second contains national and Community statistics.

Annex I notes that, since the mid-1990s, the trend has been for national, regional and local initiatives to progress from the experimental stage to a more general, long-term basis. The main focus is on infrastructure providing establishments with Internet access. Training of teachers in ICT use has emerged as the other major priority in the Member States.
These two main lines of approach reflect the Member States' increasingly ambitious efforts to integrate ICT into the educational system in a useful way. Given the scale of the task, more Community cooperation must be encouraged.

The second part of Annex I briefly reviews the main initiatives and achievements at Community level. The task force on educational and multimedia software has ensured cooperation between various programmes in pursuance of education and training policies devised at European level.

The four-pronged action plan "Learning in the information society", which was launched in October 1996, made a promising start on cooperation within the European multimedia network of schools (EUN), involving twenty European ministries of education. A further aspect was the promotion of Internet use by the Netd@ys operation.

4) DEADLINE FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LEGISLATION IN THE MEMBER STATES

Not applicable

5) DATE OF ENTRY INTO FORCE (if different from the above)

Not applicable

6) REFERENCES

Commission Report COM(2000) 23 final
Not published in the Official Journal

7) FOLLOW-UP WORK

8) COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING MEASURES

 
Last updated: 18.10.2002
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