Present pandemic crisis imposed a severe stress test for all aspects of European integration. As soon as one of the main parts of socio-economic integration is the EU’s single market, the common approaches to preparing highly educated on general level and in specific skills labour force are being of utmost importance for the European future.
Schools and universities are naturally in the center of such educational integration; hence the national authorities are forced to use digital technologies to provide for the adequate education and training.
Many teachers, pupils/students (as well as parents) are facing the need to accelerate new approaches in teaching and learning in all the complex educational spheres. At the same time, the pandemic exposed certain shortcomings concentrated in the need to successfully integrate digital technologies in education systems. Digital technologies enable pupils/students to continue learning while using new means in access to knowledge, to modern digital equipment, to connectivity and/or necessary skills.
Hence this year’ new Commission’s initiatives have been dedicated to two ideas of the European “education transformation”: the European Education Area and the Digital Education Action Plan.
Recent European education summit (the third in the last decade) has made a revolutionary imprint on education putting in the center of the member states education policies some essential elements for both a personal fulfillment of European citizens and for creating skills needed for perspective jobs. Modern education determines optimal possibilities of getting a decent and rewarding job while “forming mind and heart” for a progressive future. Besides, education provides a background for the perspective green and digital skills needed in the future economy, as well as for the foundation of democratic values, debates and sustainable actions.
Facing challenges and lessons to learn…
Education’s market unites about 100 million people in the EU member states through the national education systems, schools and universities. The present pandemic crisis has shown enormous challenges for education policies with all the strengths as well weaknesses of the system: some important lessons have emerged, the Commissioner for education acknowledged.
First, there are great disparities in the states’ digital infrastructures: in order to provide quality education in the EU, schools have to tackle the issues of connectivity and appropriate digital devices for distance and online learning in the transition to online education.
Second, in the need to improve digital education the states have to equip both pupils/students and teachers with the necessary digital skills: the EU-2020 education monitor indicated the lack of such skills in using digital technologies; hence the challenge for a long-term approach to digital education and training.
Third crucial element is the need for the European education community for extensive cooperation in exchanging best practices and sharing solutions for the development of inclusive and effective digital education.
The EU’s modern initiatives
In the fall of 2020, the Commission presented two education packages which included main EU’ recommendations aimed at assisting the states in making their education and training systems more inclusive, green and digital.
Thus, the first one (Communication on Achieving the European Education Area by 2025) proposes new measures to improve the quality and inclusiveness, as well as digital and green dimensions of the states’ education systems.
More on “education area” in: https://www.integrin.dk/2020/11/16/towards-european-education-area-2025-facing-fundamental-changes/
The second initiative is the Digital Education Action Plan, which has two long-term strategic priorities: a) fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem; and b) enhancing digital competences for the digital transformation in socio-economic integration.
Important to mention that in both, the digital education through cooperation is playing a vital role. Among various forms of “digital educational transformation”, the following four initiatives have been suggested:
- The European university alliances can create synergies in digital cooperation contributing to a new transformation agenda for higher education;
- The changing pedagogical practices and networks as vital means of helping teachers update their competences; the Commission plans to launch 25 Erasmus Teacher Academies, supported by the new Erasmus programme;
- The Commission will intensify cooperation and exchange in the field of the European digital education: thus, the new European Digital Education Hub will link national and regional digital education initiatives and foster collaboration across sectors and borders. It will serve as a focal point for digital education at European level;
- The Education for Climate Coalition to mobilize the education community towards actions in support of climate neutrality and sustainable development. The member states are presently in the very first phase of such initiatives but this policy lines shall have a priority in the next months and years.
Commission vice-President Margaritis Schinas and Education Commissioner Mariya Gabriel have already launched the EU’s new “education for climate coalition” which intends to bring some new ideas to education and teaching by mobilizing the European education community towards green growth, climate neutrality and sustainable development.
The Commission will set up a special webpage as a platform to compare successful projects in the member states: for example, the “eco-schools” and environmental education centers in the member states’ universities can connect each other, exchange ideas and stimulate innovation in educational spheres.
The EU efforts in cooperation
The European Commission offers several opportunities for educational institutions of all levels by, e.g. supporting online platforms where educational institutions and teaching staff can collaborate and offering exchange activities for students and educational staff. For example, the Erasmus+ projects for educational institutions and other organisations, offers opportunities to: engage in development and networking activities among the states, create partnerships with organisations from other countries, in order to achieve innovative results or exchange best practices; and facilitate international exchange opportunities for students, staff, trainees, apprentices, volunteers, youth workers and young people.
Specific efforts are envisaged for the online community’s cooperation for schools. So-called
“e-twinning” projects offer a platform for schools and their staff (teachers, librarians, etc.) to communicate, collaborate, develop projects and share ideas.
= There is already a multilingual open platform on adult learning in the EU: it opens to teachers and all interested partners a professional tool in adult learning across Europe.
More in: https://epale.ec.europa.eu/en
= The Erasmus+ programme also offers exchange opportunities in vocational education and training; the programme also supports further international cooperation for institutions with a good track record of holding these exchanges. More on find an eligible educational institution under the VET mobility charter for potential partnerships could be found in the Commission’s websites.
= EU educational funds often involve collaboration with partner organisations; see links in: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/resources/vet-mobility-charter_en
It is well-known that according to the EU Treaties, education policies are generally in national and regional competences; however, coordinating actions at the EU level are still essential. The Commission does everything possible to support pupils and teachers in the education’s sphere: recently presented the Digital Education Action Plan for 2021-27 is a good example of assisting the states in developing necessary digital infrastructure and boosting the digital competence of pupils/students and teachers.
Besides, the EU ideas on achieving the European Education Area includes a set of concrete ambitious steps up to 2030: e.g. increasing the abilities of the 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science, achieving the 15%- share of eighth-graders’ competences in computer and information literacy, and at least 90% of people between 20 and 24 should have a higher secondary education.
Finally, there is a financial support for the EU-wide education policy: i.e. the NextGenerationEU program with €750 billion to counter the pandemic’s economic fallout, creating resilient future with green growth, digital transformation and sustainability. The NextGenerationEU will also help in bring broadband internet to schools, colleges and universities.
The e-learning will assist students and teachers to overcome pandemic’s constraints, the lack of personal contacts and interactions between teachers and pupils: classmates miss everything, e.g. daily exchange, the opportunities to discuss pupils’ special needs, the daily chitchats, etc.