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Mrs Viviane Reding

Member of the European Commission responsible for Education and Culture

Education in the 21 St Century : Education for the Knowledge Economy

Conference of the Asia-Europe Foundation

Luxembourg, 2 May 2000

Mr President,

Prime Minister,

Ministers for Education,

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

I wish first of all to greet my Asian colleagues who have travelled a long way for this very important meeting. I am myself 'at home' today, not only because I am in my native country but also because you allow me to speak to you about a subject which is at the same time my business and my passion: adapting education to the new information society, with all that that means in terms of challenges and possibilities, both for the personal development of persons of all ages, as well as for making full use of the opportunities provided by the knowledge economy.


When I accepted the responsibilities of European Commissioner for Education and Culture, it was my conviction that education and training are not only the engines of growth and of economic innovation, but also the keys for creating a genuine European citizenship. This is why I would like not only to speak about "human resources" but also of "human beings". Indeed, in the Europe of the 21st century, "lifelong" education and training should become an individual right and a social objective as important as the adoption of basic general education was at the end of last century. It is the best chance we will get to build a Europe of Citizens, and it also is the most obvious educational response to the demands of a knowledge-based economy.

As you know, the European Council at its meeting in Lisbon on 23rd and 24th March has just confirmed the seriousness with which Europe is taking this challenge. The Heads of States and of governments underlined how important a role education and training will play in allowing citizens to live and work in this information society.

In Lisbon the Union set itself a strategic target for the coming decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth accompanied by quantitative and qualitative improvement of employment and of greater social cohesion.

Accordingly, my objective would be to build a Europe in which everyone has the opportunity to fully develop their talents, to feel that they can contribute to the best of their ability, and that they should have a sense of belonging. In the EU, there were just over 83 million pupils and students during the 1996/1997 school year, which is 22 % of the total population and 57 % of people under 30. In view of this number of citizens, it is clear that we cannot see education as a mere vector for economic growth: it is also the biggest gathering of European citizens ! - and if we want to build a living Europe, with a soul, a destination and a world role, a Europe that its citizens hold close to their hearts, it is there, in the schools, the universities, the training centres, that Europe can grant itself a soul - of this I am convinced.

If we want Europe to be open to the world, it is also at school that the conditions of its opening must be met, by encouraging each young citizen - but also the less young "lifelong learner" - to widen their horizons and to see the world as their natural environment, either in the physical sense or in the virtual. Last month I had the pleasure of taking part in the first meeting of G8 Ministers for education in Tokyo. There I had the honour of presenting European programmes as examples of good practice for the transnational mobility of all types of students and of teachers. We have targeted a doubling of such mobility during the coming decade, by creating the structures that will make mobility both more attractive and more beneficial - good linguistic preparation, recognition at home of periods of study abroad, adaptation of study programmes etc. We also highlight the need to better use information technology, so that those who cannot benefit personally from mobility nevertheless may gain through a greater international dimension in their education and their training, in whatever discipline they follow.


Education in Europe is in full evolution. The following remarks may be made:

Firstly: Education has entered the age of information and of communication.

As their studies progress, European pupils become increasingly more familiar with information and communication technology (ICT). The priority we have given to this sector is explained by the development of the Internet and of new communication tools that will become essential in the daily life of all citizens.

Although in many countries education programmes have taken on board compulsory teaching of the new technologies to pupils, it is not always also the case for the initial and continued training of teachers. Indeed, a third of the Member States had not in 1997/1998 made information technology a compulsory subject in their training programmes for non-specialist primary and lower secondary teachers.

Secondly: Europeans are beginning their education increasingly early: pre-primary education is becoming more professional.

While in all EU countries, except here in Luxembourg, pre-primary education is optional, more than 50% of four-year olds attend establishments with an educational vocation. More than 90 % of the children of Belgium, of Spain, of France, of Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are already at school at that age. And in Belgium, France and Italy, more than 90 % are already at school at only three years of age. This phenomenon shows that the place of pre-primary education in the development and socialisation of young children is fully recognised. Pre-primary teaching is becoming more professional by setting itself objectives, programmes, methods of evaluation and specific teaching approaches.

Thirdly: The students are becoming more mobile.

At the other end of the education system, students in higher education are increasingly moving to other countries in order to study, encouraged by the expansion of the Erasmus programme, which enables higher education students to supplement their courses with three months to a year of additional study in one of the thirty European countries taking part in the programme. Erasmus has been increasingly successful since its launch; the number of participants has increased between 8 % and 10 % each year. Thus, in the school year of 1989/1990 there were 27,000 students selected, but by 1998/1999 this had risen to 181,000.

So this is where we stand. Education is becoming more international, is becoming more open to the new technologies which are playing an increasingly important role in our lives. You have experience of these developments, you see them in your own societies. But: where are we going? The world is turning ever faster, globalisation, market forces, technological and scientific change are everywhere and all-powerful.

Our challenge in the education systems is to follow these developments, or better still, to control them, or at least to channel them. For that purpose we must, initially at a political level, propose an overall vision of Education of the 21st century, on the role of Education in our economies, our lives, in our work, in our well-being. Let us not forget that there is no favourable wind for the sailor without a destination!


As the new millennium dawns, education and training throughout one's life will be more than ever a need. It will be a need both for the individual - in order to allow them to extend their abilities as much as possible - and for Europe as the knowledge-based society emerges, the need to fight social exclusion is tackled, and we manage the increasingly narrow relationship between employment and training on the one hand, and human resources and economic growth on the other.

Life long learning cannot be defined narrowly as it must include all purposeful learning activity undertaken with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence, whether formal - in pre-school, school, higher education, adult education, vocational training - or informal in work and leisure environments.

In short, Life long learning is a new attitude to learning. It demands that each citizen feels responsible for learning throughout life. It also demands that opportunities are created to respond to the demand.

As such, Lifelong learning plays a central role in promoting social inclusion, in enhancing European competitiveness and in combating unemployment. In concrete terms, giving priority to lifelong learning means focusing on the following objectives:

Ensuring that young people leave school with the knowledge and skills they need to enter the labour market and with the capacity and motivation to continue their learning throughout life;

Ensuring that those who have left school with a low level educational qualification get a "second chance" to acquire the knowledge and competence they need as citizens and as workers; and

Ensuring that everyone has access to learning throughout life regardless of their gender, age, work situation, ethnic background, economic and social circumstances, place of residence, family situation or potential disabilities. To achieve this, new pedagogical methods, as well as new ways of delivering training that fully exploit the potential of new technologies, should be used.

The future of Europe, in particular in terms of innovation, growth, competitiveness and employment, largely rests on the development of human resources and information and communication technology.

Europe owes itself a favourable education and training environment, propitious to the hatching of new generations of research workers, of contractors and citizens with the culture, abilities and skills it will need.


Our objective is that everyone, and especially the young, should have the basic skills for access to this new information and knowledge society. To this end, all schools and training institutions should have access to "online" information and other multimedia resources. Support should be provided to teachers, pupils, instructors and those undergoing training.

Compared to the speed of technological innovation, education traditionally takes a long time. Consequently, education and training systems should henceforth consider the very definitions of form and content of learning. Europe must have a concerted vision and make concerted efforts to put the innovative potential of new technologies at the service of quality in education and of training.

As regards equipment, in the Scandinavian countries, which are in this respect the most advanced in Europe, there is an average of about 8 pupils per computer, and almost all the schools are connected to Internet. But one can still find major disparities between the various European countries. In France, for example, in primary schools there are 30 pupils per computer, and only 10% of those computers are connected to the Internet. On the other hand, at the end of 1998, the United States had an average of 6 pupils per computer, and 89% of the schools were connected to Internet, as well as 51% of classrooms. The United States aims to provide all classrooms with Internet access during the year 2000.

But the challenge is not just about equipment. Having the infrastructure is necessary but it's not the only condition, especially as technology rapidly becomes obsolete. Significantly, on 2nd February this year President Clinton announced that federal funds intended for teacher training will be doubled from 75 to 150 million dollars. Only 20% of teachers feel currently sufficiently prepared to include the new technologies into their teaching plans.

For this reason, in March I announced a new initiative entitled 'e-Learning' which has four elements: an effort to equip schools with multimedia computers, an effort to train teachers in digital techniques, an effort to develop European educational services and software, and an acceleration of networking between schools and teachers.

This e-Learning initiative sets itself the following targets:

For the end of 2001, all schools and young people in Europe should have access to Internet, in school or in a public centre;

For the end of 2002, all teachers should be provided with individual equipment and be able to use Internet and multimedia resources;

For the end of 2003, all school-leavers should have the basic knowledge required for using computers.

I also propose to strengthen the' European Schoolnet ', a major educational network connecting more than 500 schools and 20 European countries. It allows them to share experience in the use of the new technologies and thus improve teaching and learning.

These initiatives also make it possible to teach young people to tell between 'information' and 'advertising', between 'fiction' and 'reality', between the 'virtual' world and the 'real' world. In the virtual age, we have to give greater recognition to the importance of these new challenges.

Mr President,

Dear colleagues,

In this speech, I have specifically insisted upon the dual role of education, and I will continue doing so throughout my mandate. On the one hand, education will serve the economy, competitiveness and employability, and on the other hand, citizenship and social cohesion. This is not a 'zero sum game', as one says in English. The fact that we are giving more attention to economic challenges does not mean we will be giving less attention to social objectives. I think that it is, in fact, a 'positive sum game ': education will play a more important role in the years to come, because of these two sides to the same coin; the coin that is our information society, the society of the 21st century.

Thank you

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