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SPEECH By Mrs. Viviane REDING European Commissioner for Education and Culture The importance of education and training in an economy based on innovation and knowledge Launch Conference for the second phase of Socrates BIRMINGHAM, 20 MARCH 2000

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/00/88   20/03/2000

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SPEECH/00/88

SPEECH By Mrs. Viviane REDING

European Commissioner for Education and Culture

The importance of education and training in an economy based on innovation and knowledge

Launch Conference for the second phase of Socrates

BIRMINGHAM, 20 MARCH 2000

Over the past weekend, I have been meeting in Lisbon together with the Ministers of Education from over 30 European countries to mark the official opening of the new generation of European Union programmes in the fields of Education, Vocational training and Youth. Just two days later, the UK, along with Belgium, is the very first country to hold its national launch conference, which we hope will raise the curtain on 7 years of even more active co-operation between the schools, colleges and universities in this country and their partners across the continent.

This conference is taking place at a particularly auspicious moment, as it is also the week in which the Heads of State and Government of the Union will come together to fix a new agenda for economic and social development in Europe, in which the role of innovation and knowledge will be of paramount importance. Let me say a few words about this wider dimension of European policy, before returning to the vital role of SOCRATES II in this broader context.

Innovation and knowledge are becoming ever more decisive factors in determining Europe's capacity to be competitive and to combat the scourge of unemployment. Investment in human resources is vital for economic success and social stability. New technologies are radically re-shaping the society in which we live, and transforming the ways in which knowledge is created, exploited, transferred and shared. Converging digital technologies are changing our behavioural patterns as consumers and as citizens. Managing this change for the benefit of all is a crucial challenge at the start of the New Millennium.

Education and training must adapt to these new and far-reaching challenges, and join forces in a newly integrated approach to meeting the needs of the knowledge-based society.

As Baroness Blackstone has already said, lifelong learning is a vital ingredient in the recipe for tackling the social and economic challenges of 21st. century in Europe. As the Commissioner responsible for Education and Culture, I see adapting education and training in Europe to the new, digital economy as one of the key challenges facing us.

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 and because it is not moving fast enough into the digital age.

  • In 2002 Europe will be short of 1.6 million people skilled in information and communication technologies. This "skills gap" represents 13 percent of the total demand. The gap in the UK is predicted to be about 14% because of the importance of conducting business electronically in its services dependent economy.

  • Europe lags behind the United States in promoting "digital literacy". The US wants one Internet link per class by the end of 2000. Modernising education is a key theme of the presidential campaign.

  • Developed countries are becoming aware of the problem. Japan, which is chairing the G8, is organising the first-ever meeting of G8 Education Ministers at the beginning of April.

  • Europe is becoming aware of the problem. The Education Ministers made a major contribution to the preparation of the upcoming European summit at their meeting last weekend in Lisbon.

Who are the players that can help solve the problem?

Firstly, the Member States, responsible as they are for the organisation and content of education under the Treaty, are the main players.

Secondly, European industry has every interest in investing in its human resources. I note with interest that here in the UK the Government has invited private business to join in partnership to build a network of specialist city academies.

Thirdly, the European Union can also make a significant contribution.

The Helsinki European Council of Heads of State and government endorsed last December the Commission's overall plan for bringing Europe into the new, digital economy. This plan is called « e-Europe ».

In this context, I recently launched the e-Learning initiative. Europe must speed up the entry of its schools and other places of learning into the digital age. One of the objectives of e-Europe is to make digital literacy one of the basic skills of every young European. e-Learning is intended to implement the education/training part of e-Europe. e-Learning 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 issue of equipping schools and learning centres, the Commission has put forward to the Special European Council to be held in Lisbon next weekend the following targets:

By end-2001, all schools should have access to the Internet and multimedia resources, and support services, including information and teaching resources on the web, should be accessible to all teachers and pupils; and all young people should have access to the Internet and multimedia resources in public centres, including in the least-favoured areas.

By 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.

By end-2003, all pupils to be digitally literate by the time they leave school.

These objectives are particularly ambitious and will require extra efforts in particular from Member States. If they are achieved, they will enable Europeans to make up much of the ground on the United States.

Beyond this benchmarking process, e-Learning supplements e-Europe in other ways:

On the question of digital services and educational software, the Commission recently adopted, on my initiative, a report 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. In this field, partnership with industry is again necessary. I suggest that a European conference on this subject be organised at the earliest possible opportunity.

For the networking of schools the Commission is reinforcing the "European Schoolnet" (EUN) project, a joint initiative with 20 Education Ministries throughout Europe.

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. This initiative will be extended quantitatively and qualitatively.

Last but not least, the Commission will lay emphasis on lifelong learning 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.

I will be presenting the details of the e-Learning 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".

What are the main objectives of the new SOCRATES II programme within this overall context?

From a European Perspective the Programme promotes:

  • An increased understanding of European cultures and systems

  • A new enthusiasm for learning

  • Social inclusion rather than exclusion

  • Co-operation in leading edge technology

  • Innovation in teaching methods and learning individual styles

  • The European dimension understanding opportunities that other countries in Europe can offer particularly in the labour market

  • Cultural diversity and a desire to learn from the richness of educational resources across Europe

  • Learning new skills

  • And above all, employability as a key objective for our educational and training policies

SOCRATES is the operational centrepiece of the Union's involvement in the field of education, and a key instrument in delivering its practical contribution to creating a European area of lifelong learning.

It is also, in the broader perspective, a cornerstone of the policy to bring the European Union closer to all its citizens.

The potential of SOCRATES for encouraging a positive sense of identification with the process of building Europe is obvious, with some 70 million young people in the Union being taught by over 4 million teachers at well over 300,000 schools, with some 11 million students studying at over 5,000 higher education institutions EU-wide, and with millions of adult learners now attending full-time or part-time classes,

The programme has risen to this challenge. The figures speak for themselves:

Over the past five years, nearly half a million students have received "Erasmus" grants to enable them to spend an integrated period of study in another European country. Over 50,000 higher education teachers have carried out integrated teaching assignments at universities elsewhere in the Union, and some 1,600 higher education institutions including all the major universities now have contracts with the Commission to support their European activities.

In the school sector, the "Comenius" and "Lingua" actions have been an outstanding success. Over 10,000 schools Europe-wide have been involved in joint projects, and some 150,000 young people have been exchanged in the framework of joint activities designed to boost their motivation to learn another European language.

Almost 1,000 multilateral co-operation projects have been developed between partners in different European countries in fields such as adult education, teacher training, new technologies, language teaching and multicultural education.

SOCRATES is also centre-stage in the process of enlarging the Union to embrace the wider Europe. In all, over 30 countries will be participating in the second phase of the programme, which will play a particularly important part in the context of an enlarged Union.

Happily, the education community in the United Kingdom has been quick to recognise and reap the benefits from the opportunities, which the programme offers. This year alone, over 10,000 British Erasmus students will be packing their bags to spend a term or year at another European university, and a large number of European students will be bringing a strong European dimension to British campuses. Over 1,100 British schools will be taking part in European Education Projects. As for the major pilot projects within the programme, UK institutions have consistently headed the list; this year they are taking part in well over half the 475 projects being funded considerably more than any other country in the Union.

But this should not be regarded as just a numbers game. The objective of the programme is to enhance the quality of education by means of European cooperation and mobility, and to inject a stronger European dimension into teaching and learning for all sections of the educational community. Past evaluations have shown that the programme has been outstandingly successful in achieving these objectives, and we are confident that the second phase, which is now beginning will continue to build on these achievements.

Various factors will help in this regard. Firstly, the 7-year duration of the new programme will facilitate long-term strategic planning. The enhanced budget for the programme 1,850 million Euro for the 2000-2006 period will enable more people, schools, universities and adult education establishments to be supported, and in some cases grant levels to be increased. Simplified financial rules will help to make the programme more accessible, and the greater emphasis on decentralised management will bring the programme that important bit closer to the end-user.

Above all, however and here I return to my previous thoughts on the importance of lifelong learning as the leitmotif for all our programmes the SOCRATES programme as a whole has been restructured to help it respond more closely to the challenges posed and opportunities offered by the knowledge society. In future, the first three actions of the programme will reflect the individual's progression through the learning life, beginning with pre-school and school education (« Comenius »), continuing through higher education (« Erasmus ») and progressing into a third action (named after the Danish educationist « Grundtvig ») which is devoted to adult education. The creation of this third « pillar » is a clear reference to the greatly increased emphasis placed on adult education, alternative forms of learning and informal education within the new programme structure.

These three « sectoral » actions are complemented by various « transversal » actions cutting across all three sectors. The first of these is the newly designed « Lingua » action for language-learning, which will now concentrate much more heavily on stimulating policies to encourage language-learning and on the production of innovative materials for language-learning. It will be assisted in this process by the fact that the year 2001 is to be designated the European Year of Languages.

A second transversal action is entitled « Minerva ». This deals with the vital area of open and distance learning and the use of new information and communications technology in the field of education. This is a subject to which the Commission attaches particular importance. Minerva will be a key 'player' in implementing the new initiative we have just launched called « e-Learning ».

The comparative analysis of education systems and policies is the focus of a third transversal action, and one which is specifically devoted to intensifying the exchange of information and experience between those involved be it at local, regional or national level in the process of formulating an implementing educational policy. The Eurydice and Naric networks, as well as the Arion study visits known to many of those present here today, will also take their place in this newly designed part of the programme, as will important new activities designed improve quality assurance and evaluation techniques in the various educational sectors. An exciting new openly accessible Internet navigating tool, known as the "Gateway to the European Learning Area", will enable citizens to discover the full array of learning opportunities in Europe.

Last but not least, the new programme structure makes specific provision for « Joint Actions » linking the SOCRATES programme with the Community programmes in fields such as Vocational training, Youth, and the Fifth Framework programme for Research and technological development. This is an important new feature of the programme compared with SOCRATES I and will greatly enhance the programme's capacity to contribute to an integrated lifelong learning approach.

In conclusion, may I emphasise once again that the second phase of SOCRATES will be characterised by an even greater degree of decentralised management than the first. The National Agencies will therefore have an even more important role to play than in the past. The Commission is pleased that the Member States have backed its proposal to reduce the number of such Agencies, and this will again contribute to more efficient and transparent programme management. The British Agencies mainly the Central Office for Educational Visits and Exchanges at the British Council, and the UK SOCRATES-Erasmus Council at the University of Kent have done an outstanding job, and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking both them and the Department for Education and Employment itself for the excellent cooperation which we have enjoyed over the past five years.

Finally, may I thank you personally, Baroness Blackstone, for your untiring work to enhance the European dimension of education in this country, and for the cause of lifelong learning more generally. Grass roots support is vital in this endeavour, but determined leadership at the top is every bit as crucial. I look forward to continuing the partnership with you in the years to come and to redoubling our efforts to dismantle the obstacles which still, all too often, prevent the European area of learning from fulfilling its true potential.

Minister, ladies and gentlemen, let us work together to help to make a Citizens' Europe become more than a jargon phrase and transform it into living reality. I commend the SOCRATES programme to you as our mutual friend in this exciting and deeply meaningful endeavour.


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