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Speech: Making education fit for the digital age

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/13/185   05/03/2013

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European Commission

Androulla VASSILIOU

Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Making education fit for the digital age

The Grand Coalition ICT skills and job Conference/Brussels

5 March 2013

I'm delighted to be here with you for the second day of our Conference launching the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs.

Yesterday afternoon, you had the pleasure of hearing from President Barosso as well as my two colleagues, Vice-President Kroes and Commissioner Andor, on how important it is that we all pull our forces to tackle the skills mismatch in digital jobs. A number of key stakeholders also presented pledges and outlined the current situation and the priorities for the future.

Today, you will have the opportunity to take part in workshops and discuss synergies across the field of ICT.

But before that, I wanted to discuss, this morning, the crucial importance of rethinking our educational systems to make them fit for the digital age, in order for the younger generation to be well-equipped for the digital jobs that exist now, and the far more numerous opportunities that will be soon created. We will then look at what we are doing at EU level for this.

At political level, the importance of the topic is well-known. Last December, at a ministerial conference in Oslo, I had the opportunity to discuss with European Education Ministers the growing impact of ICT on education.

We all agreed that we need more innovative ways of learning and teaching in Europe and that a greater use of ICT was essential. Digital competence has become a core skill that everyone should be learning at school - it is essential to our economic growth and to people's employability and inclusion in society.

This is not a hypothetical challenge that we expect to be facing sometime in the future. The challenge is before us right now.

Almost unnoticed at a time of financial trouble and economic slowdown, there is a silent crisis that is calling into question our ability to bring about a better future. It is a crisis over skills.

A gap is growing between the skills that many new jobs require and the number of people who have those skills. The gap is wider for jobs that require mathematical, computing and technical skills.

A fundamental re-shaping of our economies is taking place. The pace of change is quickening, and we are not keeping abreast.

If this is a race, we are not winning.

In Europe, we have more than one out of five young people jobless and over 2 million job vacancies unfilled. For unfilled digital jobs, we are looking at a situation where there is barely one ICT graduate for three digital jobs. This is putting Europe at a growing disadvantage with other parts of the world.

This is not just a missed opportunity; it is a direct threat to our future prosperity. There is more at stake than simply filling the vacancies. What is at stake is Europe's capacity to create jobs in the first place. The enterprises that will create new wealth and employment over the next decade will depend on people that have a deep understanding of science and technology: but we are not creating enough of them.

Let's look at the practical steps we can take to improve the situation.

Last November, I presented a strategy on 'Rethinking Education' to give momentum to reforming efforts. I have made it clear that we need to develop all skills relevant to our future growth, including digital competences as a key transversal skill for growth and jobs. I am urging Member States to embed these digital skills at all levels of education.

This takes a lot more than just putting more computers in the schoolrooms – but that's of course a welcome first step. In fact it is striking to note that almost one student out of three has little or no access to ICT at school.

But another fundamental step is to ensure that teachers are trained sufficiently to provide quality ICT and STEM education. Too often these subjects are considered useful, yes, but hard and even boring. Teachers have the vital task of making their pupils discover the beauty of mathematics, the marvels of science and the magic of computing. Without good teachers the best-designed reforms do not stand a chance.

This is why we are urging Member States to invest in the recruitment and development of high quality ICT and STEM teachers at all levels, and some ideas will be presented at the conference on this. There is particular emphasis on improving the capacity of teachers to use ICT in their daily teaching.

ICT-proficiency should be considered a basic skill, but this is not to deny the need for specialised skills in this area. Many initiatives are already being taken by higher education and industry to stimulate ICT graduates; I find the sharing of these experiences among Member States of particular value.

The digital economy is a major driver of growth in Europe, growing several times faster than the overall economy. We need the people that can put Europe to the forefront of this revolution, and keep us there.

Most of the new digital jobs will not be pure technology jobs in hard computing science, but they will involve applying computing and technology to almost every other industry. This is the import of the revolution we are witnessing. This is what we should be preparing for.

This means that we cannot leave vocational education out of the picture. On the contrary, a very promising area for further action could be work-based learning and apprenticeships for digital jobs.

I look forward to the discussion of this by stakeholders at the conference. We need more of this kind of learning in Europe.

The European Commission fully supports the Memorandum on European Cooperation in VET, which was signed by several ministers of education in Berlin last December. It was the first step towards the establishment of a 'European Alliance for Apprenticeships'. Commissioner Andor and I are working closely on this Alliance, which will be officially launched during the World Skills competition in Leipzig on 2 July.

And as concerns more specifically universities, last September, I set up a High Level Group on the modernisation of Higher Education. The group is chaired by Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland, and it is working on issues such as the quality of teaching and the adaptation to the digital era. It is expected to provide recommendations before this summer.

At EU level, we want to do our part to the full. We are committed to using more of the Union's budget to support the Member States in their effort to provide education and training that teaches skills for employability. The EU's Lifelong Learning programme is currently funding a range of activities to promote ICT in education. And the new EU programme for education and training 'Erasmus for All' that I have proposed for the next funding period 2014-2020 will support even more actions for developing e-literacy, creativity and open education.

This includes adopting new models of cooperation between the worlds of education and work, such as alliances between educational and training institutions and business, to nurture innovation and improve the learning and teaching environments.

This is what we want to encourage with our new scheme, the Knowledge Alliances - partnerships which bring together partners from business and academia committed to delivering new and innovative teaching methods and approaches. Sectoral skills alliances will bring the same approach to the world of vocational education and training.

The new 'Opening up Education' initiative that Vice President Kroes and I will be presenting this year will examine how Member States can maximise the contribution from new technologies. It will look at new learning pathways, new resources as well as a new generation of educational providers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The active involvement, engagement and collaboration of a whole range of stakeholders are vital for achieving these objectives.

The main spirit and aim of this conference is to make this dialogue work at EU level by setting up a Grand Coalition and identifying key actions to be taken.

Strong partnerships between the public and private sectors are needed to ensure the best possible match between supply and demand of the labour market.

The challenge we face today is too great to be resolved by any one country or any one policy area. This conference illustrates how important it is to pull our forces together. I am certain that your discussions will be a source of inspiration for our future proposals.

By working together in this way, we will help Europe remain innovative and competitive. Because if this is a race, it will be won in the school-rooms - but not necessarily in the traditional ones.


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