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Brussels, 9 March 2000

The Commission launches the "e-Learning" initiative to speed up the adjustment of education and training in Europe to the digital age

On the eve of the special European Council to be held in Lisbon on 23 and 24 March on "A Europe of Innovation and Knowledge" and the Ministerial Conference to launch the Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and Youth programmes scheduled for 17 and 18 March in Lisbon by the Portuguese Presidency in close collaboration with the Commission, Viviane Reding, the Member of the Commission with responsibility for Education and Culture, today announced the launch of eLearning, which will implement and supplement the eEurope initiative in education and training.

"The global economy is gradually moving towards an innovation and knowledge society which has enormous growth and employment potential. But I find that Europe is not making full use of this potential, in particular because it does not have enough people skilled in the information and communication technologies a recent study puts this skills deficit at 1.6 million people in 2002 and because it is not moving fast enough into the digital age as is shown by the slowness of the introduction of the Internet in most of our Member States," explains Ms Reding. To respond to the challenge of the "new economy", the Commission is taking action on two fronts.

First by laying emphasis on lifelong training and on the use of the new technologies in the new generation (2000-06) of the European education, training and mobility programmes Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and Youth. With a total budget of €3.52 billion for 7 years, 30% up on the previous period, these programmes will enable two million Europeans - most of them young people - to acquire new skills and learn other languages, something which can only improve their employment prospects. The Conference to launch these programmes will take place on 17 and 18 March in Lisbon in the presence of the President, Jorge Sampaio, the Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, and Ms Reding, and will be attended by the ministers responsible for education, vocational training and youth from the 31 countries entitled to take part in the programmes.

Second front : Europe must speed up the entry of its schools and other places of learning into the digital age. One of the objectives of President Prodi's eEurope initiative is to make digital literacy one of the basic skills of every young European. eLearning is intended to implement the education/training part of eEurope.

This initiative has four components: to equip schools with multimedia computers, to train European teachers in digital technologies, to develop European educational services and software and to speed up the networking of schools and teachers. Most of the resources to be mobilised will be national, but they should be backed by European Structural Fund assistance in the eligible regions, mobilisation of the Community programmes to promote digitalisation and development of partnerships between public authorities and industry.

On the first two components, eLearning sets the following objectives, within eEurope: For end-2001, all schools to have access to the Internet and multimedia resources; support services, including information and teaching resources on the web, to be accessible to all teachers and pupils; and all young people to have access to the Internet and multimedia resources in public centres, including in the least-favoured areas. For end-2002, all teachers to be equipped and skilled in the use of the Internet and multimedia resources; and all pupils to have rapid access to the Internet and multimedia resources in their classrooms. For end-2003, all pupils to be digitally literate by the time they leave school. "The Commission's objectives are particularly ambitious," Ms Reding points out; "and will require extra efforts from most Member States, If they are achieved, they will enable Europeans to make up much of the ground on the United States."

On the question of digital services and educational software, the Commission recently adopted, on the initiative of Ms Reding, a report(1) on Europe's deficits in this field and on ways of using the dynamic of the market to enhance the European dimension of content and on-line services. "In Europe, the information society must use European content", insists Ms Reding. In this field in particular, partnership with industry is necessary. Ms Reding suggests that a European conference on this subject be organised at the earliest possible opportunity.

For the networking of schools the Commission proposes reinforcing the "European Schoolnet" (EUN) project, a joint initiative of the Commission and 20 Education Ministries in the European Union, the EFTA countries and certain acceding countries. In recent years the EUN has already given schools the possibility of working together on European projects and has given them access to a large volume of information on educational networks in Europe. EUN has also set up a network of over 500 schools (European Network of Innovative Schools), through which they can compare notes on experiments in using new technologies to improve teaching and learning.

Ms Reding will be presenting the details of the eLearning project to the Council meeting of Education Ministers on 8 June next. This may then be followed up by a specific operation on education in communication and the image in order to teach young people to distinguish between "information" and "advertising", between "fiction" and "reality" and between "virtual" and "real".

(1) COM (2000)23 final

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