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Brussels, 28 March2001

Commission adopts the eLearning Action Plan to give new communication technologies a greater role in education

Today, five days after the Stockholm European Council, at which the need for Europe to exploit the potential of new technologies to create a European education area was again brought to the fore, the Commission adopted the eLearning Action Plan. The purpose of this Plan, put forward by Ms Reding with the support of Mr Liikanen and Ms Diamantopoulou, is to promote cooperation between the European Union, Member States, and education, training and industry to combine lifelong education, modernisation of our education and training systems and use of new information and communication technologies to maximum benefit. The eLearning Action Plan complements eEurope 2002 and is a key element in the European employment strategy and in the recently adopted strategy on the new European labour market.

"Europeans must be put into a position very soon of being able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by information and communication technologies if we are to combat failure at school and exclusion, enable everybody to continue learning irrespective of age, and reduce the current skills shortage in the European economy" said Viviane Reding, Member of the Commission responsible for Education and Culture, on the occasion of the Plan's adoption.

Anna Diamantopoulou, Member of the Commission responsible for employment and social affairs, said: " With the present IT skills shortage of nearly 1.4 million, projected to rise to over 1.7 million by 2003, proper education and training must be intensified rapidly. The lead time for training IT technicians is six months to one year. Adequate training and infrastructure are also vital to ensure an inclusive e-Europe".

Erkki Liikanen, Member of the Commission responsible for Enterprise and Information Society, said: " eLearning is an crucial part of the eEurope Action in fighting the digital divide. Only by ensuring a sufficient level of skills and digital literacy will Europe succeed in this regard".

The eLearning initiative, adopted by the Commission last year (cf. IP/00/522), and the eEurope plan identified four priority lines of action: improvement of infrastructures and equipment (Internet access in all classrooms by the end of 2002, ratio of 5-15 pupils per multimedia computer by 2004), a training drive at all levels (digital literacy for all school leavers by the end of 2003, promoting the use by teachers of digital technologies in education, creation of online learning platforms by the end of 2002, adaptation of school curricula, access for all workers to digital literacy), development of quality content and services, networking of schools in Europe.

The eLearning market in Europe is estimated at 12 billion euro per year and is experiencing rapid growth. The Action Plan adopted today contains concrete proposals for implementing these objectives.

Creation of a decision-making tool in the form of an information base containing qualitative and quantitative indicators on the use of ICT (information and communication technologies) for teaching purposes in the Member States. This will be based, in particular, on the work undertaken by Eurostat, Eurydice and the OECD.

Creation of a European exchange and research platform based on the existing structures in the Member States to exploit to the maximum the potential of innovative new technology applications for education and training, particularly in the fields of possible applications of emerging technologies (digital TV, satellites, etc.) in learning environments, virtual campuses and virtual mobility, use of the new technologies to provide a remedy where conventional education fails.

Encouragement of infrastructure development (e.g. by installing digital networks in universities) in less-favoured regions via the ERDF, and provision of financial instruments by the European Investment Bank.

Inclusion of "digital literacy" in the new basic skills (languages, entrepreneurship, etc.) to be acquired in a process of lifelong learning, and recognition of these skills throughout the Community. The Commission will investigate the feasibility of a European diploma for IT skills.

Maximising teachers' potential through a personal effort on training by all teachers, identification and dissemination of best practice in the Community and investment in research on the skills needed by tomorrow's teachers and trainers.

Support for the development of quality educational content by means of an inventory of quality certification systems drawn up in cooperation with the Member States, ensuring the security of educational and cultural sites and looking into the question of protection for authors.

In the context of the educational, cultural, audiovisual and research programmes, encouragement of new educational and training services (networked learning, virtual mobility) in three areas of particular importance for Europe: language learning; the arts, culture and citizenship; science, technology and society. There is a particular need to increase cooperation between software publishers. Ms Reding is also working on an initiative on education in the visual image and the new media.

In order to achieve these objectives, the Commission will make use of all the instruments and policies under its responsibility: the education and training programmes (Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Youth); the framework programme for research and development (IST, socio-economic research); the programmes and actions on technology deployment and competitiveness (Ten Telecom, eContent, Go Digital); the structural funds, which are already investing in equipment and training in the new technologies, especially in the less-favoured regions. It is planning standardisation initiatives to ensure the interoperability and circulation of eLearning content and services. The EIB-EIF, for its part, will spend 15 billion euros over three years on investment in human resources and innovation in connection with the new technologies.

10 and 11 May will see the first eLearning Summit on private/public partnerships, which will be held in Brussels and bring together Member States, the European Commission, Members of Parliament, and representatives of education and industry. A promotional campaign on the use of the Internet in schools, eSchola, will be run from 5 to 11 May. With a view to promoting the dialogue on eLearning, the Commission will set up an eLearning Internet site by the end of 2001 intended as a reference centre for cooperation between the various parties active in this field. The potential of the existing relays (European parents' and teachers' associations, European Schoolnet, Prometheus, etc.) will also be exploited.

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