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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
The right time to harness the potential of technology to modernise education and training is NOW
Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council /Brussels
25 November 2013
Let me start by thanking the Presidency for giving me this opportunity to discuss open educational resources and digital learning. In the Commission, we are convinced that this is the right time to harness the potential of technology to modernise education and training in the EU.
This is why Vice President Neelie Kroes and I recently presented our initiative 'Opening Up Education'. Open educational resources matter hugely - not just for the future of Europe's education but also for its future as a centre for ICT and publishing and, ultimately, for its ability to innovate and compete.
The digital revolution is happening in our classrooms; it is happening irrespective of anything we do here.
Let me illustrate: when we launched 'Opening up Education' in late September, European higher education institutions had launched in total 276 Massive Open Online Courses, as monitored in our portal Open Education Europa. During the month of October alone, this had grown to 345, a huge gathering of pace. As you see, 70 more in just one month. The world of online education is not waiting for us.
[Quality and validation]
But a question arises: are we able to quality assure, validate and certify the skills acquired through these MOOCs? I am afraid that the answer is simply no. Our structures for quality, certification and validation are still too confined to the traditional delivery mechanisms. They will have to be transformed to embrace new modes of learning, and quickly. Our students expect no less; they want to have their skills recognised independently of how they have gained them. It is our duty to find new solutions.
This is one of the reasons why I will soon launch a public debate on our current instruments for transparency and recognition of skills and qualifications, with a view to developing a truly 'European Area for Skills and Qualifications'.
But the challenges do not stop there. We also know that fewer than 30% of children aged 10-15 are being taught by "digitally confident" teachers, with good access to ICT. More than 50% of European students never used digital content in their school life.
We need to support our institutions - or perhaps press them - to seize this moment and radically modernise our education systems.
As we underline in 'Opening up Education', the benefits of digital and online learning cannot be harvested if the approach is piecemeal. And let me be blunt: this is not just about supplying a laptop per child or giving visibility to open educational resources. The approach has to be comprehensive.
We must create the right incentives for our teachers, pupils and organisations to explore the potential of technology. In the Commission, we are committed to using our financial means to support your efforts. Erasmus +, starting in 2014 - only weeks away now, will provide support to partnerships of different actors to review the organisational and pedagogical models of educational institutions. It will support the development and promotion of new ways to assess digital skills.
With technology, teachers can be gatekeepers, not guides, to the world of information. And learning can be made-to-measure, not off-the-peg.
As I said earlier, having the resources isn't enough. We must use them properly. That means integrating those resources deeply into day-to-day teaching. And actually getting teachers to appreciate and use them. As it stands it's hard for teachers to tell the quality of the resources, or how well they link to national curricula and contexts. Something usable at a school in the UK may not work at a school in Greece.
Supply and demand sides have to work together: A partnership of teachers and technology companies, parents and publishers, and so on. That's the only way to ensure resources adapt to different contexts.
Ultimately that will be a positive change. But it needs a few things. Like every school with broadband and ICT equipment. We want to see every European classroom digital by 2020. We should fully use European financial instruments to achieve that.
It's investing in innovation and investing in our future. Ultimately one that can pay off, with returns not just for the education sector, but also from the benefits of a highly-educated, digitally confident workforce.
So we would like all of you to look critically at your own educational institutions. What infrastructure do they have? How can it be improved? How can they capture digital opportunities and prosper in the digital age?
And in particular: how can we ensure digital skills? Unemployment is rising – so why aren't schools giving young people the skills they need in the modern marketplace? Virtually all jobs need some level of digital skills. And soon there could be nearly one million ICT jobs vacant, without the right skills to fill them.
Yet many are not confident enough. And certainly not enough people know how to code!
There are lots of good initiatives out there. Like Europe Code Week this week, or grassroots initiatives like 'CoderDojo' and 'Hour of Code'.
I welcome this debate. And I hope it's just the start of a wider discussion: in every EU country, every local authority, every staffroom, to figure out how they can make this change work for them.