Over 40% of Europeans lack even basic digital skills. This is according to the 2020 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which reports ICT skills across the European Union. Progress has been made since 2015, but it has been slow, and significant skill disparities exist both within and between EU Member States based on age, gender, income, and so on.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how unfair European education can be. In most EU countries in 2020, schools had to switch to online teaching at incredibly short notice, with teachers scrambling to familiarise themselves with the tools they needed to deliver lessons. Poorer students, in particular, often didn’t have access to the equipment needed for remote learning, and Europe’s broadband infrastructure struggled to support the switch to mass streaming and video conferencing.
Should the EU be more involved in digital education? Education has been a formal area of EU competence since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, though Member States are responsible for setting curriculums and organising education systems. However, education is seen as a key driver of the green and digital transitions, which the EU wants to support. Not to mention that digital education, in particular, has the potential to be increasingly transnational and cross-border in nature (which means there is a stronger argument that it falls in the EU’s remit).
Want to learn more about digital education in the EU? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):
What do our readers think? As part of the Connected Europe project, we’ve been running a series of online focus groups with a diverse mix of over 250 citizens from 16 European countries.
During one focus group we had a comment from Gea from Germany, who told us her mom is a primary school teacher. She thinks it’s really amazing how teachers have adapted to the lockdown and come up with online lessons, but emphasised that they need much more support.
When we talk about the importance of digital skills, should the absolute priority should be equipping teachers with digital skills first?
To get a response, we spoke to Victor Negrescu, a Romanian Social Democratic MEP, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, and author of a European Parliament report on shaping digital education policy.
For another perspective, we also put Gea’s comment to Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke, Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe for Connected Europe, Founder and CEO of Women’s WorldWide Web (W4) and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40). What would she say?
Next up, we had a comment from our Connected Europe study from Annita, who thinks that the advantages of online training are “more obvious than ever. School closures and other disruptions to my daily life don’t have to prevent me from growing and learning. Online learning makes it simple and convenient to keep building vital skills for my future.”
Is her optimism justified? We put her comment to Victor Negrescu MEP to see if he shared her enthusiasm or would sound a more cautious note:
How would Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke respond to the same comment?
Next, we had a comment sent in on our website from Thanos, who thinks the EU should be more involved in digital education (and he suggests there should be a “Digital Erasmus”).
What would Victor Negrescu, European Parliament rapporteur on shaping digital education policy, say in response?
Finally, we had a comment from Inês, who thinks online learning is great, but she doesn’t believe it can ever replace traditional methods. She is worried that students whose education is online are disadvantaged because they are not getting face-to-face interaction with teachers.
Online learning has been vitally important during the pandemic. However, could online learning ever permanently replace physical classrooms? Are students who receive online education at a disadvantage?
How would Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke, Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe for Connected Europe, respond?
Should the EU invest in teaching digital skills? Should be more involved in digital education in general? Has the pandemic made the advantages of online training more obvious? Or are students who receive online education at a disadvantage? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
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