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Member of the European Commission responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society

"e-Learning in the Knowledge Society"

eLearning Summit

La Hulpe, 10 May 2001

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe is undergoing an important transformation. Knowledge and information are more and more becoming the foundation of economic and social relationships. At the core of this transformation is the rapid growth of Information and Communication Technologies.

Creating, sharing and using information and knowledge are key factors of economic growth and essential for our competitiveness. This driving force of the information society can ensure better quality of life and work, sustainable employment with a sufficient number of competent ICT specialists, access costs, and digital literacy for all to avoid social exclusion.

In the knowledge society, the life cycle of knowledge and skills becomes shorter and shorter. This is why we have to invest in human capital and learning technologies to shape our own future.

It is with these challenges in mind that, in March 2000, the EU Summit in Lisbon set a new frontier for Europe: to become, in a decade, the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy. To reach this goal, EU leaders asked the Commission to devise a comprehensive strategy. The eEurope 2002 Action Plan is the Commission's answer with the objectives to accelerate the development of the knowledge society and to ensure its potential is available to everybody.

eEurope is addressing the challenges of the digital age through three major sets of actions:

  • the first aims at developing a "cheaper, faster and secure Internet". In the last months, we have seen an encouraging growth in the level of Internet penetration in European homes. In addition, access costs are decreasing and high-speed access, notably DSL, is rolled out fast. These trends have to be amplified by the completion of the EU telecoms liberalisation process;

  • the second set of actions relates to investment in people and skills. The aim is to ensure that every citizen is equipped with the skills needed to live and work actively and naturally in the knowledge society.. Progress has been made in connecting schools to the Internet and actions have been launched to develop e-learning technologies and applications to support effective and efficient learning needs of the individual workers, students and citizens.

  • the third set of actions regroups measures to stimulate the use of the Internet. Confidence in e-commerce is rising as the EU completes the Internal Market for e-commerce. We must also further encourage the use of the Internet in areas of public interest besides e-learning in areas like e-government, e-health and e-transport. We must also stimulate the production of European Web content.

eEurope recognises that in the knowledge society, there is a serious risk of aggravating social inequalities or creating new ones. Achieving inclusiveness is therefore a top priority: in fact, it is more than a social objective. It will also be a major competitive asset.

Achieving access for all calls for action in several areas:

  • preventing the digital gap to materialise or widen for new generations. The school must provide European youth with the essential digital skills they need to live, work and to be responsible citizens in the digital age;

  • mending the ICT skills gap adapting higher educational systems and encouraging more young people to embrace scientific and technological carriers. Mrs Quintin will focus on this aspect in her presentation;

  • ensuring the employability of people already on the job market, by allowing them to adapt their skills or acquire new ones;

  • preventing the social gap and fighting digital exclusion. I am here thinking also about sick, elderly or disabled people.

Fortunately, modern technologies themselves provide new opportunities to deal with all these challenges and help European citizens getting better integrated in the knowledge society. ICT technologies and learning technologies facilitate lifelong learning for all and preparing the workforce of tomorrow. But technologies are not enough: politicians and administrations have to take a lead in having them applied in the public sector.

It is clear that the backbone of a knowledge society is based on telecoms and the internet. But this infrastructure can only contribute to the economic growth in a optimal way if citizens are in a position to fully use and exploit its potential.

Without easy access and wide connectivity, the economic, social and cultural benefits of the knowledge society will not come true.

Access costs continue to represent an important barrier, although there is a clear evidence that telecoms competition has resulted in lower prices, greater choice, and better quality of service.

Over last year the amount of EU homes connected to the Internet has increased by over a third. But compared to the US, the percentage of EU homes that have Internet access remains lower. A number of EU countries are ahead of the US, but on average the EU is approximately 18 months behind. But we are closing the gap.

The percentage of schools equipped with computers and Internet connections is now high throughout Europe. According to preliminary findings of a Eurobarometer survey carried out in the first half of the year 2001, 94% of European schools are equipped with computers and 79% connected to the Internet. These figures concern only computers and Internet connections used for educational purposes. Regarding the technology used by schools to connect to the Internet, about two thirds use an ISDN line, while most others connect through a standard dial-up line. For the time being, high-speed access technologies such as ADSL remain marginal ways for schools to connect to the Internet.

Ladies and Gentlemen, to conclude, I would say that despite the increasing world-wide competition, Europe is in an excellent position to reap the benefits of its past investments in human capital, in ICT infrastructures and in e-learning technologies.

Giving access to learning and knowledge to all citizens - regardless of where they study, work or live - will surely help the transformation of Europe into a true knowledge society, giving individuals the opportunity to better and more meaningful learning, live and work.

Our knowledge society will become a reality by strengthening investments in our people, our infrastructures, our content and services.

I thank you for your attention.

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