Mrs Viviane Reding
Member of the European Commission responsible for Education and Culture
Education: the new challenges
European Business Summit
Brussels, 10th June 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There has been a silent revolution unnoticed by most but essential for the future development of our societies.
For the first time in European history, a summit meeting did not put purely economic or financial considerations in the forefront. But the Heads of State and of Government recognised clearly that innovation and knowledge are decisive functions to enhance the competitiveness of the Union and to combat unemployment. Thus, education becomes the key to future development. And the human being gains his-or-her place at the heart of political considerations.
This dramatic shift in political sensitivity has not happened solely in Europe. Nearly at the same time as the Lisbon summit, the first ever G8 meeting of education ministers took place in Tokyo. Also at world level, politicians are becoming aware that:
In other words: investment in human resources is essential for economic success and social equilibrium! I would like to add the following:
It is also a key for creating a genuine European citizenship. That is why I would like to speak not only about «human resources » but most of all about «human beings ».
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 young citizens - but also the less young "lifelong learners" - to widen their horizons and to see the world as their natural environment, either in the physical sense or in the virtual. Two months ago in the first meeting of G8 Ministers for education in Tokyo, 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.
Enhancing mobility is going to be a main target for the future and by the way a highlight of the coming French presidency.
In order to reach this goal, the 15 Ministers of Education decided last Thursday in their Council meeting in Luxembourg the following:
But mobility is not everything. The new technologies and the necessity for Europe to be competitive in the ICT - business are also a challenge for today's decision makers in education policy.
The impressive demand for skilled ICT professionals is a world-wide phenomenon is matched only by equally impressive penury to meet the demand.
In Europe, there is a growing gap between an increasing number of employment opportunities in information and communication technologies (ICT) and the number of qualified candidates to fill them.
The gap will be greatest in industries being restructured by Internet technology: financial services, the travel industry, book retailers, etc. 60% of ICT related jobs will be located in sectors other than the ICT sector itself, many of which are in small and medium sized enterprises. The greatest need, and subsequently the greatest gap, for ICT workers is found in traditional SMEs.
At the same time, the European industry has failed to attract women and minorities to ICT based jobs. Women are less likely in Europe to choose careers in ICT than in other fields.
The problem is deep. One of the most striking symptoms is the decrease of youth interest for scientific or technical subjects (besides Internet and games of course). Students at high school are more interested by social sciences, law, finance and business at large. This problem should be tackled at an early stage: secondary school. 81 million out of the 117 million European youth under 25 years old are enrolled in formal education institutions. This « Net-generation » is increasingly living, studying and working in a world where digital technologies are ubiquitous. Boosting their levels of ICT literacy is essential to the success of Europe in the knowledge society.
That is why I have launched the e-learning initiative. Last Thursday, the 15 Ministers of Education endorsed this initiative unanimously, committing themselves to active implementation in their Member States.
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.
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 equipment can rapidly become 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. In the USA only 25% of teachers feel currently sufficiently prepared to include the new technologies into their teaching plans.
In Europe, we face a structural problem: 50% of our teachers are over 45 years. A real generation-gap. That is why the re-training of these teachers is a real challenge. A challenge which we have to meet, because well trained teachers are the key to the success of the e-learning initiative.
Teaching the critical use of the Internet, embedding new technologies in modern teaching methods, learning how to learn, introducing interactive methods, developing networks between schools, these are the main means to reach our targets.
But there is more than that. We need to create European content for teaching in an environment of cultural diversity.
I have already initiated a very promising dialogue with some representatives of key players from the multimedia content industry. I assure you that I am looking forward to developing fruitful joint actions in the near future. For a very simple reason: the building of the knowledge-driven economy is not the sole responsibility of politicians. Industry also has a key role to play: in transmitting ICT-skills, in helping to equip schools, in developing the content that is lacking. Public/private partnerships will play a crucial role and - I am sure will constitute a key factor in our success.
That is why I will set up a framework for discussion on innovation in progress, including the creation of a high level group associating the foremost thinkers of the education and economic worlds, with focus on « Designing Tomorrow's Education and Training ».
The topics of discussion will not only be about ICT, but will also have to concentrate on the building up of structures for life-long-learning.
As the new millennium dawns, education and training throughout one's life will be more than ever necessary, as the knowledge-based society emerges, social exclusion is tackled, and we manage the increasingly close 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:
To achieve this, the whole society has to contribute, most of all the industry and the social partners.
The future of Europe, in particular in terms of innovation, growth, competitiveness and employment, largely rests on the development of human resources.
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.
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 attention to economic challenges does not mean will be giving no 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.
It is people who create growth and growth serve the well-being of people. Two sides of the same coin. So lets get it done!