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European Commission


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

Opening up Education

Informal Ministerial Conference "Opening up education through technologies: Towards a more systemic use for smart, social and sustainable growth in Europe" /Oslo, Norway

10 December 2012

Dear Minister Halvorsen, dear Minister Demosthenous,

Dear Honourable Ministers,

Distinguished guests,

I am delighted and honoured to be with you today for the opening of this Ministerial conference on 'Opening up Education'.

You all know that today is a very special day for the European Union. I feel immensely privileged to be here with you in Oslo on the day the EU will be awarded the Nobel Prize for promoting peace, democracy and human rights over six decades. As the Chairman of the Nobel Committee said in announcing the award, the EU has transformed most of Europe "from a continent of wars to a continent of peace". I therefore send my warmest thanks to Norway and the Cypriot Presidency for organising this conference and for having had the foresight – or perhaps the good fortune – to invite us here, today.

Proud as I am of this award, I hasten to point out that the real recipients are the European citizens. It was they, of course, who accomplished the great feat of creating a peaceful, closely integrated Europe.

What the institutions did, including the one that I represent, the European Commission, is to help them come together, by creating and maintaining a framework of policies and laws that allowed them to get to know each other better, to work together and trade freely, and, not least, to study, with full freedom of movement, in any educational institutions across the EU.

Education played a large role in building the EU as we know it today. Let me say that teachers and students are among the best "Europeans" that this continent has to offer, and that classrooms and lecture halls are particularly open to contact with others. I am particularly proud, on this special day, to be in charge of some of the EU's flagship programmes, those which are in the forefront in bringing our people together, such as Erasmus and Leonardo.

But if we are here today, it is because the world of education is facing a great challenge: a challenge which is also, of course, an extraordinary opportunity. We are here to address the crucial issue on how education can open itself to the technological advances in ICT: and, in the process of embracing ICT, how we can, in turn, open up access to learning and teaching and in so doing, transform our educational systems.

I presented my views on these issues only a few days ago, on the 20th of November, in a Communication on "Rethinking Education".

The key mission of education systems is to allow individuals to lead fuller and more meaningful lives. This will not, and cannot, change.

But through education we also gain the skills and competences that make us employable, and capable of contributing to the economic and social development of our countries.

And it is particularly in relation to this challenge that education systems need to keep up with the times.

We need to identify the skills that will be crucial in the 21st century economy: knowledge-based economies need people who are able to think critically, take initiatives, be entrepreneurial and creative, and who are at ease in a world that is being constantly modified by forces such as ageing, sustainability challenges, globalisation and, not least, technological progress.

Information and communication technologies have changed our way of working, communicating and living. Entire economic sectors, professions, institutions – perhaps even ways of life - are challenged by phenomena like Internet file-sharing, social networking, open access or open source.

The ICT challenge for education is twofold: it changes the nature of the skills and competences which education must impart to learners; and it challenges us to harness its power to deliver better ways of teaching and learning. On both dimensions, education and training systems are lagging behind. They are not adapting fast enough. Delivering the right skills and competences for a more innovative economy requires fundamental changes to education. Pedagogical and organisational reforms are required to harness ICTs, based on cross-curricular and more innovative approaches.

Let us just think of the possibilities of what teachers can do with the new media. They can produce their own teaching materials either from scratch or by re-using already existing media contents.

They can produce films, broadcasts or websites in collaboration with their students or colleagues – from anywhere in the world – and share the results – again with the entire world.

Open Educational Resources

And let us think of the possibilities offered by the approach represented by the Open Educational Resources movement which is playing an increasingly important role, especially in higher education - but the other educational sectors are also catching up.

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain or released with an intellectual property license that allows for their free use, adaptation, and distribution. They represent a strategic opportunity to improve the quality and enhance the equity of education.

Top university courses are now available interactively, not just to a select few, but to students all over the world.

ICT and Open Educational Resources also facilitate a more interactive, creative, flexible and personalised participation in the learning process. They foster skills and competences in media production, and they are thus important building blocks in the development of media literacy.

The potential of ICT to open up education can serve at least two important educational objectives.

First, ICT can help enhance equity. There are multiple, new opportunities open to non-traditional learners (adults, special needs students, etc.).

And new attractive learning techniques can help re-attract, re-engage and motivate students who might be at risk of dropping out.

And secondly there is a dimension of higher quality and efficiency. The new possibilities for more personalised learning, collaborative learning, learning by doing, developing critical thinking, complex processing, and for nurturing creativity; these are all ways of learning that will increase both the quality and the efficiency of education.

Of course this does not mean that all traditional learning will be replaced by online education. Another part of my Rethinking Education Communication emphasises the key role of that most traditional component of education: the role of the teacher.

But we have to reflect on how to embed these new ways of learning and teaching into our educational systems, how they can become the tools of every teacher and every learner; we need to ensure that this potential brings a concrete added-value.

This is the main subject of this Conference. This is what we will be discussing.

We will be looking at ideas and suggestions for concrete actions in the Member States, as well as at future initiatives at European level.

The potential of ICT for modernisation of education and training has become a key priority for us in the European Union and we have been working intensively to develop possible actions.

Dear Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

In the coming months, in close collaboration with my colleague Neelie Kroes and in follow up to the ideas I set out in Rethinking Education, I will work on developing a new EU Initiative on opening up education by embedding ICT and OER into the learning and teaching that takes place in our schools and universities.

More details on this initiative will be presented to you later today as input for your discussion.

I am eager to hear your first reflections on our outline for this initiative and your suggestions on the necessary actions to be undertaken. We are still very much in a listening mode, conscious that exciting new developments and new ideas are emerging in this field every day.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I look forward to the discussion that will take place during this conference, and to sharing our ideas and ambitions for the near future.

Together we can make the vision of a modern education a reality in Europe.

Thank you.

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