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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Transforming learning through technology – new tools for teachers, new opportunities for students
17th International Conference on Technology Supported Learning and Training
Berlin, 1 December 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It's my pleasure to join you today in this fascinating event. It shows the endless possibilities of a world in which technology helps us learn.
In the last 20 years, the information and communications revolution has really taken off. The Internet, smart-phones and tablets are a world of opportunity. And they are as readily available, as readily usable for today's generation as the home telephone, radio and the television once were.
These days people can enjoy access to information and expect it anytime, any place, anywhere.
And, these days, excellence in education is the key to ensuring Europeans can keep the opportunities and lifestyle that recent generations have taken for granted.
We need to combine these ingredients and let technology support and enhance learning. For formal education in schools and for informal education throughout our lives.
Elsewhere in the world, people have realised this potential. In South Korea, all classrooms will go fully digital by 2015, ending the paper and textbook era. I recently visited a primary school in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya – and even there they've realised the potential of ICT, they are teaching kids computers. Even there it's having an impact on the children, broadening their skills, expanding their horizons, and opening up new hope for the future.
So, why, here in Europe, do most of our classrooms still feel like they did when I was at school? When digital media can be combined to create interactive rich content to help teaching: why are we still based on blackboards, textbooks and a uniform approach for everybody?
In today's digital world, are we really doing all we can to ensure we use the digital revolution to educate, to enrich, to enlighten?
My goal in the EU is clear: to get Every European Digital. That has to include education and training. We need every teacher digital, and every student digital. Right from the very start of formal education, and as part of lifelong learning.
New technological solutions can vastly improve learning systems like never before. And they use tools that are not just theoretical ideas, not just for the rich or the lucky: these technologies are routinely and readily available. The exhibitors and participants in this conference are living examples.
If these solutions can transform our relationship to knowledge - how we find it, access it, acquire it – then it is our duty to make sure everyone has that opportunity. They should not have to wait until they are locked onto a career path – they should have these opportunities from the earliest age, including at school.
No two people learn alike. There are as many ways to learn as there are learners. Some people need time to approach an idea from new angles; but those who get it straight away will get bored if they can't move on. Some people want to hear an explanation, others to see a demonstration. Some learn best by themselves, others in a group. Some in a formal learning environment; others at home over morning coffee. And so on.
Technology can respond to this: it can tailor learning. It can help people learn at their own pace, in their own way, wherever they are, and throughout their lives. Let's embrace that fact. And let's change the way we learn.
Because if we don't provide these opportunities we will be guilty of a grand failure: a failure to give our children the best chance in life.
Of course, the words are the easy part. I know you share a desire to fulfil this potential. The hard part, of course, is changing things.
This is perhaps the most challenging change agenda of our time, and it's scary because no one leader, no one government, no one technology can be in control. But that also reminds us that we can all shape this agenda.
So how do we do that? How do we give teachers the tools to make learning most effective? Give students the best opportunities to improve themselves? Ensure that, in every classroom, in every workplace, in every home, everyone can learn in the way that best suits them?
My main message is that we must not be constrained by how things have been done in the past. Rather, let's be creative, putting learners and learning at the centre of our efforts. Here are my three key ingredients.
First, we need to make digital literacy, digital skills and technology-supported learning central to the public policy agenda. You are nowhere without digital skills in the 21st century. Ignoring that fact will just breed social exclusion. What’s more, in the future, Europe could face a massive ICT skills gap – if we don’t have the ICT specialists we need, our economy will suffer. We need to get kids from a very young age learning about IT, exposed to online education, and expanding their career horizons.
And we must ensure we’re reaching out to everyone. Women in particular are significantly under-represented in the ICT sector. They are often deterred from it, because of outdated attitudes, or because women don’t think it’s a sector “for them”. We need to change that.
Second, we must use the full range of funding and support. The EU invests heavily in this area, around 60 million euros in research and innovation every year; our Horizon 2020 research programme will carry on that good work for the next decade.
But we shouldn't just focus on researching new gadgets: often the technology is already out there on the market today, it just needs to be adapted and used.
Pre-commercial procurement could also be a useful tool here. By acting as technologically demanding "first buyers", public procurers can drive innovation from the market that supplies them. Good for our public administrations who buy these tools; good for students and teachers who use them; good for domestic suppliers who can take the lead in a developing, global market.
Third, if we are serious about tackling the problem, let's engage all stakeholders. And let's be honest about the problem of cultural inertia.
In our education system, some teachers and administrators don’t know how or why they should access technology. Others simply don't want the inconvenience of change. In our workplaces, those who control the money may be reluctant to make investments with an unclear or long-term pay-off.
So we have to show that these technologies are not about sidelining educational professionals, and they are not about wasting money on gadgets. Rather, they are about empowering and supporting teachers, giving them new teaching techniques. And, as for the money, we need to show it is not a cost, but an investment: an incomparably powerful investment in human capital.
Teachers and trainers themselves – the frontline of this learning revolution – can have a huge, positive impact on how this plays out. Technology can hep them adapt and reach out to every student, get the most out of every student, achieve new successes with every student. Just as technology can tailor the individual learning experience it can tailor the teaching experience too: so a teacher's efforts can go towards the students where they can have the greatest impact.
To really make this case, we need to join forces. Because to transform education, we will need not just education experts; not just technology experts; not just funding experts. We need all three: we need people from all those areas to sit down, work together, and understand each other's needs. That is the only way to get products which are useful to teachers, trainers and students. Products which are reliable, user-friendly, and which make a difference on the frontline.
I propose to get everyone together: in a common, multi-stakeholder platform. So those making technology can learn the needs of those in education. So educators can learn, support and champion the benefits of new technology. And, overall, so we can mainstream new technology into the European education and training systems.
Indeed, in the field of caring for the elderly, we have created a successful European Innovation Partnership: this could in due course prove a useful model for education, too.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Changing learning through technology might not be an overnight process – but it will be a revolutionary one.
At the moment, we are on the right road, but we are moving too slowly.
So let's speed up – let's work together to put this right at the centre of our public policy agenda.
Information and communications technology has already transformed how we connect, interact and transact. With the right ingredients and the right approach, we can also give learning and education their rightful place in this revolution.
There is no time to waste given the current economic situation. We need to wake up to every new opportunity for growth.
Innovation and knowledge are the lifeblood of our economy, essential for a prosperous Europe. And innovation and knowledge can give us the boost to get out of this crisis. If we use technology properly, we can create both the smart jobs for the next generation and the educated workforce that can fill them.
We have to think not of "what is"; but "what could be". Not simply to repeat the comfortable habits of the past; but to capture the massive opportunities of the digital future.
Learning new things is not just for pupils and trainees: it is for everybody in our education and training system. Teachers, too, can learn to do things differently.
If we do this, we can build a system where teachers have the technological tools to reach out to students of all needs, backgrounds, and abilities. We can stimulate an economy that produces wild, exciting innovations to support the education sector. And we can build a society where education is an endless adventure for everybody.
Ladies and gentlemen: will you join me in this revolution?