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Mrs Viviane Reding
Member of the European Commission responsible for Education and Culture
The role of the European Community in creating the knowledge and information society
Zentrum für Europäischen Integrationsforschung
University of Bonn (D), 7 March 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Colleagues,
This is a crucial time to speak about the Knowledge and Information Society and I have accepted your invitation to speak about this with enthusiasm and anticipation. This issue is of great importance. The development onto the Knowledge and Information Society demands rapid changes in education and learning provision so that all people in Europe are well prepared for this development. And of course this has an impact on the role of education policy in Europe - and to the role of "Europe" in education policy !
As you know, education is a national responsibility. For Germany, his federal states, just as in other member states of the European Union, education policy is strongly related to regional and national culture, identity and democracy. The European Treaties give the European institutions a role in promoting quality and mobility across the borders. But there is no European role in the substance of how education is conducted in the Member States: what is taught, what is learned and how this knowledge is transmitted from teacher to student. This falls, in accordance with the subsidiarity principle, under the competencies of the Member States.
I was asked to present to you here today a view on the role of the European Community in the transformation of our continent from an industrial society to a knowledge- and information society. When I do so, I ask for your understanding that I will concentrate on education policy issues of this development. This not only because education is my responsibility in the European Commission. More fundamentally, I strongly believe that the transition you are discussing here today, is one in which we see our societies moving from "manufacturing" to "mentalfactoring". And education is the crucial factor in shaping the success of that transition.
(The passage towards the knowledge and information society: the challenges for Europe)
Let me first speak about what I see as some of the main challenges and major deficits that Europe faces on this passage towards the knowledge and information society.
Perhaps you will allow me, in the spirit of the French-German friendship, which has contributed so much to the ideals of European unity, to start out by paraphrasing Mr. Jacques Attali, former advisor of President Mitterand and former head of the EBRD: He has, some years ago, characterised internet as "the discovery of a sixth continent on the planet Earth".
This is an interesting view. But today, as we start to observe the potentials of Internet and new technologies, we would probably express this different. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Internet does not add a sixth continent, but it is moving the other five together.
According to the philosopher Francis Fukuyama, the fall of the Berlin Wall, which holds an even greater promise for the unity of Europe, constituted "the end of history". Is the construction of Internet perhaps "the end of geography"?
Internet is, of course, only one piece of the puzzle, albeit an important one. Global commerce, information technologies, the acceleration of technological mutations and scientific discoveries, all point to the same direction. Whether we call it the knowledge and information society or simply the "e-commerce": what is happening today is that all of these factors are contributing to a complete transformation of our countries in which skills and qualifications become our main assets, for individuals and society alike. Whereas in earlier days we used to speak of our growth challenges in terms of "hard" infrastructure and physical assets, we now concentrate on "soft" infrastructure and mental assets.
I would for sure be the last to deny that having a good education has always been a prime asset for one's success and opportunities in life. But there are some fundamental factors that make the current situation appear different from the past. We observe profound changes take place in such rapid pace, that education and training systems are experiencing serious difficulties in incorporating all of these changes into their curriculum. An important matter of education and training systems has always been in the transmission of values and the education of active citizens. Curriculum reforms therefore require careful preparation and debate. Moreover, in most countries national curricula are already overloaded to the extent that additions have to be followed by cuts elsewhere. , These are procedures, which demand a very careful handling. Finally, with all this we have to bear in mind that we cannot change overnight the number or the qualifications of those working in the field of education. The area of teacher education require a significant time-lag which we cannot loose sight.
In short, education systems are rather sluggish constructions, but that sluggishness is perhaps an asset. We should be cautious not to let education systems be swept away by rapid waves. Rather, we should be addressing two more fundamental key challenges.
The first key challenge, which I see, is the question of lifelong learning. With the acceleration of technological changes and the accumulation of "new knowledge" individual skills and qualifications become perishable goods. One has to continuously update his skills and qualifications and it is therefore clear that the responsibility and the challenge to adapt to the Information Society is not an exclusive task to the schools and universities. It is all throughout life, from cradle to grave. It is a common challenge for the entire society, in which education and training providers across the whole spectrum of formal, informal and non-formal learning have an important role to play.
As you will know my services have presented a European Memorandum on Life Long Learning which seeks to raise a number of fundamental questions how Life Long Learning can be implemented as a reality. While Life Long Learning is on everybody's lips, it is still a distant concept for many people and for most countries.
We are in the phase of "romantic dreaming" on Life Long Learning, now we have to move on to practice. We understand the necessity of Life Long Learning, and the concept of Life Long Learning evokes pleasant images of a "Renaissance of the Mind", in which we all read books and learn new things to our hearts' content. Whereas the reality is somewhat different. For one thing, Life Long Learning makes a lot of presumptions: people want to learn and they also have the time to do so - but is that really true?
Most people have enough difficulties just with managing and reconciling the responsibilities of work and family life. We cannot just add learning unless we restructure certain items in that triangle of living, working and learning. Life Long Learning must involve a shift of perspective, in particular on how people look at the priorities and the organisation of their life-projects.
But Life Long Learning requires even further decisions; especially with respect to the way we organise learning and innovate in teaching methods so as to make learning attractive and within reach. We must look at the way we recognise, certify and verify the quality of that which is learned in informal and non-formal settings.
We have to discuss the roles we can give to regional and local communities. Local and regional authorities are closer to the citizens and can identify their learning needs and respond to those in concert with employers.
And we shall not forget money! One does not need to be a mathematics professor to understand that the providing of learning facilities for people aged 6 to 18 years is cheaper than the funding of learning "from the cradle to the grave". Who will pay the bills? Who will provide time for learning?
The Memorandum on Life Long Learning poses all these questions and many more. The aim of this effort is a large-scale consultation in all the Member States on the question, which decisions have to be taken and paths to walk if we wish to realise the dream of Life Long Learning. We will have the outcome of that consultation in summer and the Commission intends to take an initiative to further promote Life Long Learning from this year's autumn on.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to emphasise at this point, that the "Knowledge and Information Society" which you are discussing here today, and "Life Long Learning" are two sides of the same coin. There cannot be a Knowledge and Information Society without Life Long Learning for everybody.
I believe that we, as human beings, with our ethnic and cultural diversity, our emotions, our values and our responsibilities as members of families and communities, are in danger of becoming alienated from an Knowledge and Information Society if it is driven by other than our own forces. I am sometimes concerned when I hear people saying, "we must keep up with the pace of technological change" - as if that change is something running in front of us and we are running breathlessly behind. Surely our role is not to keep up, but to participate and control the pace of change.
I therefore reiterate, ladies and gentlemen: no Knowledge and Information Society without Life Long Learning. That is my credo!
A second key challenge is the question which basic skills and qualifications learners should acquire in order to become adequately active in this knowledge- and information society.
Interestingly enough, some studies indicate that, in order to master Information and Communication Technologies, 80 % of the skills required are social and interpersonal skills: the ability to communicate, to co-operate and interact, to organise and manage information, to judge between relevant and irrelevant information, and to work in the multicultural environment that the Internet establishes as a reality for all of us.
On the other hand, the technology itself may well become much more user-friendly. Information and Communication Technologies may one day be as much a standard as water and electricity. So before overhauling our entire curriculum we should stop and think and make sure we are seeing things in the right perspective and, consequently, changing things in the right proportions.
We observe all of the Member States currently having this debate on new basic skills as capabilities and I would consider it as a crucial challenge to the European Union to come along with answers. For being in the position to do this we would have to project ourselves into the future. We would have to ask ourselves which societies we want and which skills and qualification citizens should acquire to create and sustain a "European model" of society. This is not just about learning to use a computer keyboard, we must think of social skills, of entrepreneurial skills, of language learning just to mention some aspects. In 10 to 20 years the entire architecture of knowledge will look different and we have to start imagining and anticipating.
At the Lisbon summit of 23 and 24 March 2000, of which I will speak in more detail later on, the heads of states and governments have launched an appeal for the design of a European framework for the new basic skills in the knowledge society. According to this appeal the Member States believe that there is an urgent need for this discussion - and that the European institutions are to take a role in this debate. Meanwhile the Commission has presented further proposals, including the setting up of a Task Force which would elaborate proposals on removing the deficits on professional skills that exist on the labour market. Employers will have to take a key role in these initiatives, as well as civil society and all decision makers in education and training.
I believe that we must start to address those two fundamentals, but I am also aware of some immediate problems, which require immediate answers. We must do both: design long-term solutions and give short-term answers.
The short-term question that I am referring to, is what has become known as "the digital divide".
It is a key challenge to bridge this divide.
IN fact there are two digital divides: one separates Europe from the United States, and the other, within in the European society, separates those having digital basic knowledge from those who have not.
When we are dealing with the issue of digital divide we are also looking at one of Europe's main deficits.
(The passage to the knowledge and information society: the European deficits)
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, tourism, book retailers etc. 60% of ICT related jobs will be located in sectors other than the ICT sector itself, many of them in small and medium sized enterprises. The greatest need, and subsequently the greatest gap, for ICT workers is found in traditional small and medium sized enterprises.
The problem of the ICT gap is substantial - and the trends and extrapolations are not at all promising.
There is another problem, which is related, but it appears in a broader shape raising massive problems on the long run: the decrease of youth being interested in scientific or technical subjects. Students tend to be more interested in social sciences, law, finance and economy; but they will be living, studying and working in a world where digital technologies are ubiquitous. We therefore have to work on two strands. We have to raise significantly the level of ICT skills of young people so that the entire future generation has a good baseline of being at ease with technology and being able to work with it. Besides we will need much more young people actually specialising in science and technology studies. Europe should be in first line with the development and innovation of technology.
With regard to equipment the Scandinavian countries are the most advanced in Europe. Schools would reach an average of one computer for about 8 pupils , and nearly all the schools have Internet access. But one would still find major disparities between the various European countries. In France primary schools would provide one computer for 30 pupils, and only 10% of those computers have Internet access. Whereas in the United States, by the end of 1998, 6 pupils shared one computer, 89% of the schools and 51 % of all classrooms had Internet access.
Outside the schools, the Internet is more present in Americans' rather than in the Europeans' life.. More than 40 % of American homes have Internet access, but less than 30 % in the European Union.
The daily use of computers is also much more common in the US than in the EU. From 1997 to 1998, US online consumer spending increased from 10 times to almost 20 times the European amount. In the scope of only one year!
This speaks for itself.
For all of these reasons, I announced a new initiative last year entitled 'e-Learning' to bring education in Europe "on line". This initiative has four goals:
For the education sector, e-Learning constitutes an effort to equip schools with multimedia computers, an effort to train teachers in digital processing techniques, an effort to develop European services and software for the education sector, and an acceleration of networking between schools and teachers.
This e-Learning initiative outlines the following goals:
By the end of 2001, all schools and young people in Europe shall have access to Internet, whether in school or public centres;
By the end of 2002, all teachers shall be provided with individual equipment and being able to use Internet and multimedia resources;
By the end of 2003, all school graduates shall have the basic knowledge required for using computers.
E-Learning is a joint initiative for stimulating the Member States, social partners and economy, teachers and learners alike, to give our schools and vocational training institutions access to the Internet and multimedia resources, and, to connect our societies to the information age.
Teaching the conscious use of the Internet, embedding new technologies in modern teaching methods, teaching the capability to learn, introducing new interactive methods, moving schools into joint networks - these are our essential means to reach our targets. But there is more than that. We need to create European contents for teaching in an environment of cultural diversity.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I mentioned the digital divide is not just one between the US and the EU, within our societies there is another divide that we have to overcome. There are strong discrepancies between parts of society who use the Internet and those who do not.
There is an enormous "digital gender gap" in Europe. 82 % of the internet users are men and only 18 % are women! In higher education, in natural sciences, women still represent a minority, even more significantly in electrical engineering and computer science. There is also a "digital gap towards seniors". Although our societies are getting older, the Internet would not: 87 % of pensioners do not have access to Internet, unlike those aged under 30 with 65 %.
Understand me well here.
Internet and new technologies are miracles of knowledge and information and will offer tremendous potential for growth as well as for cohesion. New technologies can, for instance, offer entirely new ways of learning and studying and can potentially help us to combat some of the problems in our education systems, including those of school resignation, drop-out and the problems of people with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
However, I think that we should act proactive and take the necessary steps to ensure the transition to the knowledge and information society taking place in the way in line with our ambitions and values. We must not leave everything to market forces.
(The passage to the Knowledge and Information Society: the European role)
E learning is just one example for the role that Europe can take in setting a common agenda and stimulating Member States for it. At European level we can identify concrete common targets and deadlines, so as to stress both the urgency and the responsibility that we share on our way to the Knowledge and Information Society.
Ladies and gentleman, we have to understand that the answer to these problems is not less Europe, but a better Europe. That is also what young people say to me, when I meet them in your country and in others. They don't want to move backwards in history, but forward with a Europe that fulfils their aspirations and offers them concrete benefits.
We have to understand that globalisation keeps on moving on and that European integration is not a process in which we loose our national roots or feelings of belonging, rather one in which we anchor these in a bigger community of shared values, as a response to globalisation.
With the onset of spring (or at least, we hope so) I may perhaps refer to the theories of "climatic chaos" of Edward Lorenz, according to which the lift-off of a butterfly in Brazil can provoke a storm in New York. The essence of this chaos theory is that weather is the product of endless interactions in a vast global climate network. Even the tiniest change can cause waves spreading all over the globe, getting multiplied, distorted and amplified, carrying the potential to result in catastrophic effects in another part of our planet.
Indeed, I am convinced that our national economies are becoming, like the "national climates", somewhat of a contradiction-in-terms. The national economy is just one of the gateways in a vast network of connections and interdependencies, in which a small change in one country can cause much bigger effects in another. The national economy has to handle its own "butterfly effects". And they enter the policy arena through various transmitters: the rates of the Euro, international monetary speculation, the stock exchanges which are ever more borderless, the restructuring or relocations of large multinational firms, international trade agreements, the prices of petrol, the new virtual Internet economy, etc.
Just like the economy, our values, whether national or European, are likewise affected by these modern technological developments. As I said, the Internet offers us a real treasure of information and communication potential, but not only this…
The Internet is also able to avoid facing a number of codes and values we would highly appreciate in our societies. The Internet world doesn't always respect privacy and intellectual property; people feel attracted to various sorts of temptations without any restraint or sanction mechanism in place. Going even further, personal contacts might be driven out by virtual ones. Contacts between client and customer, between government and citizens, between employers and employees. In doing so it may very well be altering the notion of "community" and the "art of living together", which is a cornerstone of any modern democracy.
Of course I didn't come here to be gloomy, but we need to be aware of certain trends that may be affecting certain fundaments of our societies. The mission of education is to provide us with the mental abilities to master these changes. H. G.Wells already said: the entire human history is a race between education and catastrophe.
The leaders of our countries have understood this message, and at the Lisbon summit of 23 and 24 March of last year they have drawn their conclusions.
The Lisbon summit is the beginning of a silent revolution. As I said in the beginning of my speech, the Lisbon summit is doing two things:
Both points need clarification, let me start with the first point.
Education is the new frontier of the next decade. In Lisbon, we finally learned that Heads of State and Government are not only concerned with economics and finance, but are concentrating on the fundamentals of both growth and cohesion in our societies: the information society and the role of education in this society.
In Lisbon the Union set itself a new strategic goal for the coming decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world, capable of achieving a sustainable economic growth accompanied by quantitative and qualitative improvement of employment and of greater social cohesion.
This is a strategic goal, which is just as important as the completion of the Common Market, the introduction of the Euro and the enlargement of the Union. And the means to accomplish these goals are, to a large extend, related to education. Let me just indicate some of them:
Common objectives, European formats, diplomas and frameworks. Are we heading for a European education system?
That brings me to the second point - the role of Europe in education.
Let me reassure you that we are still fully respecting the principle of subsidiarity and the legal basis provided for by the European Treaties. The European Commission, as you know, is in fact the guardian of the Treaties, it is part of our "job description" to respect and protect them.
The Lisbon conclusions should not be interpreted as a European incursion into national education policies. But what is interesting about the Lisbon conclusions is that, for the first time in our history, we have felt the need to speak about what there is in common in education, rather than the eternal - almost automatic or "programmed" - emphasis on diversity, when we speak of education. That is an important "paradigm shift" taking place in this silent revolution. We recognise that , despite the enormous discrepancies between the education systems, the challenges and certain objectives are similar, if not identical.
This is why Member States have embraced a new way of co-operation. The new open method of co-ordination, adopted in Lisbon, upholds subsidiarity, but at the same time intends to "exploit" all the options available underneath the "umbrella"' of subsidiarity.
It is not the question whether we respect subsidiarity or not - because we do respect subsidiarity. I believe it reflects that famous riddle of whether a glass is half empty or half full.
Member States as well as the European institutions have, for the last 40 years, preferred to say that the European education glass is half empty.
After Lisbon, we tend to say that the glass if half full.
Indeed the open method of co-ordination is designed to help Member States to gradually develop their own policies; they can involve several or all of the following aspects:
As being said before, this open method of co-ordination does not replace the principle of subsidiarity. But we need an open method of co-ordination to replace the practice of "declarations of intent" (in the better case), and "pontification" (in the worst case). With the open method of co-ordination we are considering our intentions more sustainable and attempt to measure and monitor the extent to which we book progress towards our intentions.
If the Union has set the strategic goal, as I mentioned before, of becoming the most competitive knowledge based economy in the world, and all Member States feel responsible for this goal, and it is recognised that human resource development takes a key role in achieving this objective, then every Member State also becomes responsible for taking appropriate action within formal and vocational education systems to unleash these forces of innovation, change and creativity.
This idea of mutual accountability enriches the education policy in Europe. It doesn't state that Member States can be held accountable to the European Commission: But the idea does say that a Member State feels accountable to the "community" of the other Member States. A similar process of observation and peer pressure is underway in the context of employment policies - and I think it has already led to some good results.
Let me add one last thing about indicators and benchmarks. This is a new area for education and, as such, I believe that it appears very exciting. But I understand perfectly well that it only reflects part of the reality. Sometimes indicators do not reflect quality, and sometimes they do not reflect the diversity between Member States, nor the dynamic socio-economic context in which we are operating. The fact that, for instance, the integration of school graduates into the labour market does not succeed in some national rating, doesn't necessarily mean that the education system is doing a poor job. It could well be an indication for the depressed economy in this country.
I am therefore convinced we should never loose sight of the context of data, nor confuse quantity with quality. And we should not get trapped in some ranking of the countries. It could lead to a very antagonistic mood in education policy - something that could spoil the new constructive dynamic that we are just about to build after the Lisbon summit.
On the other hand, we should not flush down the baby with the washing water. Quantitative indicators can be very useful tools to implement policy objectives and to monitor our progress in achieving them. What is important here is that the goals are set by the Member States themselves most likely in a bottom-up, participative process rather than top-down by the European Commission. This is a very important issue for me and a concept I would always want to defend.
The steps taken from Lisbon to Stockholm and on to Barcelona
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Lisbon summit has also introduced the principle that we will continue having regular summits of similar kind in order to monitor our progress, and to verify if Europe is still on course towards the Knowledge and Information Society, and to consider new initiatives for reinforcing our efforts. The first "follow-up" summit is at our doorstep: the Stockholm Council of 23/24 March 2001.
In Stockholm we will then be in the position to take a look back to an entire year, and I believe we can already feel encouraged by the steps we have taken so far. With an Action Plan for Mobility, the Communication on e-Learning and the Memorandum on Life Long Learning we have booked good progress but there is still a lot to be done.
But Stockholm, ladies and gentleman, will be characterised by the adoption of the report on the concrete future objectives of education systems.
If the Member States would accept this report, an important step would be done. For the first time national education systems would agree on some broad, common goals, namely increasing the quality of education and vocational training systems, facilitating the access to those systems for everybody; and the opening up of those education and vocational training systems to the world - the world beyond our national borders, but also the "world within": closer contact to the research and science sector, entrepreneurs and society at large.
With this report on the objectives of education systems Member States will jointly face a number of common challenges and objectives. They will agree on the role that education shall take in a changing multicultural society, with more elder people and young and skilled people becoming a rare resource. They will agree on the issue how education can serve economic growth, sustainable development, social cohesion and equal opportunities. The objectives report will mention details about, for instance, quality control in education, demands on teacher training, learning of foreign languages, developing of entrepreneur spirit; and the report will respond to the question, how learning can be made more attractive, both for the learners and teachers.
But the essential message of this report will certainly be the recognition of the fact that the future of the Union requires a solid contribution from the world of education, and no Member State can accomplish this alone. The report will acknowledge that in an interdependent world we must build on our similarities, learn from each other, share our successes and failures and jointly use education to move European citizens and societies onto the new Millennium.
The next summit will be the spring summit of Barcelona in 2002, under the Spanish presidency. It will provide the opportunity to present a report in which we will indicate how exactly the open method of co-ordination can be implemented to approach the objectives we have outlined in Stockholm. The open method of co-ordination can have different implications for different objectives. For some objectives, Member States may wish to acquire indicators or benchmarks, for others they may merely opt for lighter forms of exchanging ideas and good practice, for some objectives research may be appropriate, for others community actions promoting certain aspects of co-operation, etc. It will be a tailor-made, also a "patchwork" approach in which different methods will be associated with different objectives.
The Barcelona summit of next year will therefore give us a kind of blueprint of co-operation in education for the next decade. It will therefore be a summit to watch!
(Nice and future developments)
Let me finally speak briefly about the Nice summit and a look beyond, towards the future developments. A lot of things have been said about the Nice summit, including some criticism even by the Commission. But in context with our discussions of today, several positive aspects of the European Council, namely the part before the debate on treaty changes.
I would like to refer to the four following aspects:
Firstly, the Nice Council has adopted the European Social Agenda. This is an important gain for a balanced and sustainable creation of the Knowledge and Information Society. The modernisation and improvement of the European social model, to which this Agenda refers, is a necessary effort as obligatory basis for the transformation to a knowledge based economy. If we want to ensure that the emergence of this new economy does not compound existing social problems of unemployment, social exclusion and poverty, we will have to invest in people and to create an active and dynamic welfare state . The European Social Agenda does have very clear words for this refers directly to the necessity of Life Long Learning, about the mobility of teachers as well as learners and about the fight against any forms of discrimination and exclusion;
Secondly, the Nice Council has included the structural indicators to measure the annual progress of the European Union on our way towards the Knowledge and Information Society. I am glad about the recognition of these indicators because they include important indicators for the educational sector, such as the per capita investment in human resources, the school dropout rate, and the participation of adults in Life Long Learning. With those indicators we have the prove that the progress of the Union must also be progress in educational terms;
The Nice Council has also adopted a Resolution for supporting the action plan for mobility of teachers, learners and researchers. The action plan for mobility, which has been developed under the French Presidency, is a very flexible "tool box". Member States can select the tools which they consider the most appropriate to promote mobility between our countries. I am currently looking at possibilities how the Commission can make use of the toolbox within the competencies and resources that we have - even though it is mainly the Member States themselves that shall benefit from the toolbox, since most of the obstacles to trans-national mobility are laid in national legislation and procedures -.
Finally, the Nice Council adopted the new Employment package which has, to my great satisfaction, further improved and which takes to the importance of education and training in the context of Life Long Learning. The Employment package demonstrates that human resource development and the continuous updating of skills and qualifications are essential to the development of more and better jobs, less unemployment and a higher employment rate for all citizens: men and women, young and old.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have the winds in our sails and we share the same idea where the journey should take us. The transition of Europe towards a Knowledge and Information Society should unleash the forces of innovation and growth, which this continent has in abundance. But everybody should participate in this transition, nobody should be left behind. Life Long Learning, a renewed and reinforced Social Agenda, these are structural and long-term ventures which should accompany short-term remedies to close the digital divides within our countries and across the Atlantic.
We must combine short-term with long-term measures, and economic development with social cohesion. And we must do it together, just like 15 rowers rowing that boat on a turbulent sea, but one that we can cross with confidence, I am sure.
I am very honoured to be able to play a role in this silent revolution and I was happy to give a voice to that silent revolution in your University today.
I wish all the best for those who study and teach here. Whatever we do, shall be of benefit for you, the citizens - because, by the end of the day, it will be you who would implement and succeed in the transition from the information to the Knowledge Society. Many thanks for the invitation to speak here today.