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European Commission

Neelie KROES

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda


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

'Opening up Education' - Making the 21th century classroom a reality

Launch of 'Opening up Education' /Brussels

25 September 2013

Vice President Kroes

I am very happy to be here, together with my colleague Androulla, to announce the launch of 'Opening up Education'.

Is there not a paradox with schools? Our children, from a very young age, use in their daily life digital technologies: mobile phones, tablets, computers, games. You name it.

Everywhere, every day… but not at school!

Today, 63% of 9 year olds are missing the digital equipment and fast broadband they need at school. Not enough teachers are confident about using ICT technology in the classroom.

In some countries, like Greece and Croatia, fewer than half of pupils have internet at school.

In most EU countries, fewer than 30% of children aged 10-15 are taught by "digitally confident" teachers, with good access to ICT.

Moreover, while digital technology and content has improved, and countries around the world, from the US to Asia, are starting to reap the benefits out of it, Europe is falling behind.

Can you imagine that one third of the 200 European universities we surveyed did not even know what a Massive Open Online Course is?

'Opening up Education' is the Commission’s response to the great opportunities of the digital era in the field of education.

This package is all about becoming more open and flexible, so that pupils and students get the start in life they need, and adult learners get the chance to join this digital movement.

Commissioner Vassiliou

I couldn't agree more. The digital revolution is having – and will continue to have – a dramatic impact on education and training. This will certainly bring challenges but it will also bring huge opportunities.

Education needs to adapt to new content, new infrastructures and new methodology. School curricula still often fail to provide the tools and framework necessary to ensure that developments in digital technologies and ICT are followed-up successfully. That has to change.

Teachers know the digital world is important - but they often lack the digital confidence and know-how to bring that world to life. Or they aren't sure how they need to adapt.

Opening up Education is about helping them to do that, to make that transition from gatekeepers to guides, and for education to become more accessible, so that everyone, from school to the 'university of life', is on board the digital express.

Technology makes it possible to develop new solutions for better personalised learning, by allowing teachers to have a more accurate and up-to-date follow up of each learner and by promoting autonomous learning and self-evaluation, including outside the classroom.

Europe needs to reap the full potential of these opportunities, so that we deliver higher quality education and the digital skills essential for our young people's future lives and careers.

Let's not beat about the bush: the way we teach and learn has to change. Teachers and trainers will need to embrace open resources and adapt traditional practices to the new online environment.

Vice President Kroes

It’s not just the way we teach and learn that is changing. It’s also the specific skills people need to get good jobs in the growing digital economy.

By 2020, 90% of jobs will need digital skills.

That is just around the corner, and we aren’t ready. While, soon, Europe could face a shortage of skilled ICT workers. More than one million unfilled jobs in a time of high unemployment! Fixing that problem is the goal of our Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. Some companies have made significant pledges to match ICT skills with jobs and to develop teacher training.

That Coalition is also looking at getting more youngsters to work in ICT: boys and girls. Like getting them to code in their free time. Or doing practical learning, like using the Olympic Games to learn how to build a stadium or calculate running speeds. Both fun and useful!

No longer can ICT be seen as something for boys. We cannot allow girls and women to fall behind. It will hurt their chances in life and it will hurt the overall economy.

And it's not just the young who need digital skills for the future. We also need to invest in adult learners.

Adult learners have a lot to gain – maybe even the most to gain – from the digital revolution. At present, only 9% of adults participate in life-long learning. That is far too low.

If education is to become truly life-long we need to make sure it is easily available to everyone, wherever they live or work.

It is essential therefore that we support the creation of flexible courses, with high quality distance learning options. Technology will play a crucial role in this.

So how will our new package make a difference in practice?

Commissioner Vassiliou

Let's be clear: it is not enough to bring a few computers in our schools. We need to provide a comprehensive response.

We are focusing on 3 drivers of change: teaching methods, digital content, and infrastructures.

Firstly, we propose to create –together with Member States- opportunities for organisations, teachers, students and pupils to be more innovative by making more use of digital technologies.

We want to stimulate teachers and educational institutions to test innovative digital approaches. We also want to encourage the recognition and validation of skills acquired through digital learning.

Secondly, we propose to increase the use of Open Educational Resources, to ensure that educational materials produced with public funding are available to all.

And I am delighted to announce that, today, we are launching the first of those initiatives –the Open Education Europa web portal.

Building on the success of our existing eLearning portal, this will provide an online meeting place where students, practitioners and educational institutions can access and share open educational resources.

Open Educational Resources will increase the economic efficiency of education and training and lead to the development of new teaching and learning practices, which will improve the quality of education throughout Europe.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) will also contribute to increasing quality and widening access to education. Earlier this year, we saw the launch of the first pan-European MOOCs portal, offering free courses in 12 different languages. This is a very positive development.

Technology based education will be a 'must have' element for teaching institutions in the future and Europe cannot miss out this opportunity.

Our Communication announces that the Commission will support financially, through its new programmes Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020, the development of OER and other digital educational materials in different languages.

We will work to promote OER. But we also want to properly manage the transition. Together with publishers.

We cannot accept a situation where more than 50% of teachers do not share their materials because they are concerned about the legal implications.

'Opening up Education' proposes to develop technical tools to clarify the situation and make it easier to re-use and share resources.

At the same time, we must also protect the rights of authors and ensure they are properly compensated. So we propose to work on getting that balance right.

'Opening up Education' will therefore encourage more dialogue and coordination between ICT companies, education authorities and publishers.

Vice President Kroes

Androulla, you often say that education is the best investment we can make in our young people's future. I couldn't agree more. We can't allow the future of our children to be determined by where they are born, or condemned by underinvestment.

This is why the third dimension in our proposal has to do with infrastructures. It is a big challenge in a time of austerity. There are already big differences between Member States. We need and we can close the gap and modernise our educational institutions.

We want every school, every classroom to be connected to high speed broadband. We want Member States to upgrade their ICT equipment, including through joint pan-European procurement and to spread digital teaching materials.

The European Commission will play its part, including financially. As well as Erasmus+, Member States will be able to seek support from EU Structural Funds.

Last but not least, there is a fourth dimension I ought to mention in our proposals for opening up education. It concerns all of us.

We propose to make it not only the challenge of the schools or of the education ministries. No, we want this to be the challenge for everyone. All stakeholders need to be involved: teachers, learners, families, digital communities, industry, economic and social partners.

We propose to create a platform for all these stakeholders to benchmark their schools. To tell us how their school is doing in terms of digital excellence. To promote innovative pedagogical practices. Support the teachers. And reward those who perform well.

And we are calling on volunteers too: if you are an ICT expert, if you know how to code, you can give a hand and team up with teachers to improve the skills of our children. So, I look forward to initiatives in that area!

Commissioner Vassiliou

This is absolutely true. We will only achieve these objectives if we work together. We need coordinated action by the EU, its Member States and the world of education.

But we believe in this initiative 100%. We believe it will benefit education providers, teachers and students of all ages - and it will enlarge our knowledge-base to maximise the potential of technologies in education.

We have a duty to create a level playing field so that every pupil, every student, every teacher and every adult learner has the opportunity to reach their full potential with the support of digital technologies. We can accept nothing less.

On behalf of Neelie and myself, thank you very much for listening.

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