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!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock – (c) insta_photos
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30 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Pedro

    Free education. The best example is my mother, who found herself unemployed because of Covid-19 and got countless hours of learning programmes for free and is now much better equipped with digital skills

  2. avatar
    Jaime

    The technology required to sell online is not complicated, particularly in the case of small businesses. Actually, it’s relatively simple because of CMSs, frameworks, etc. So, anyone who wants to learn how to implement those technologies already has a lot of resources on the Internet for free. I don’t think the state should take part on this. If the market demands these professionals, the salaries will increase until that demand is satisfied, and people must decide what skills they want to learn based on their interests and the market conditions

  3. avatar
    Ainm

    There’s no one answer. I think it has to be a multi-faceted approach. Stuff like night classes, course days, weekend classes, these all have a role but I think it should be incentivised. Not “do this or lose your job” but more “do this and see what benefits and advantages you’ll get from doing it”. Victor seems to be of a similar mind, make it attractive to be an educator with digital skills.

  4. avatar
    Liz

    Start young, with free courses for adults and educators and children started as lessons from a young age

  5. avatar
    Martin K. M.

    I agree that educating the educators themselves should be the main focus. It is vital to bring new trends and technology into schools of all levels. However, there is one aspect that is often overlooked in regard to digital skills, and that is mental health. Which, in my opinion, is of utmost importance when it comes to the use (and misuse) of technology, especially when educating the younger generation.

  6. avatar
    Chicca

    I am aware that it’s a somewhat dangerous territory, but there are services like Google offering free digital training to their users. I have dabbled in some of these courses myself. Of course having private companies doing what EU member states should doesn’t make everyone happy, so to say, but just putting it out there that many of the “equipment” is already available, it just needs to be better advertised to users. Maybe member states in the EU could partner with these companies (I’m also thinking of such websites like Udemy, Ahref or Domestika)

  7. avatar
    Funi

    Anyone of working age today who does not have basic digital skills will not learn them in this lifetime. No programmes will help.

  8. avatar
    Ze

    Like Negrescu said, and I agree, there needs to be a strong investment in education and educators if we want to achieve a strong and massified digital literacy.

  9. avatar
    Sabrina

    To invest in school, to teach peopòe how to do.

  10. avatar
    David

    I agree that equipping teachers and educators with digital skills is important. I would also emphasize the importance of investment in hardware in the educational sector, so students can actually access digital content regardless of socio-economic background.

  11. avatar
    Tom

    Invest in the training of the people that can teach to use digital tools.

  12. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    Sorry, but I can’t help to invest(igate) the political ramifications of FoE/DE’s harmless question.

    With its unstated aim of an eventual total EU integration in all aspects- their words have to be scrutinized for ambiguities.

    Fact: so far each country is entirely responsible & finances its education system and writes its curriculum.

    • Seems the FoE/DE heard the gun & made a false start? The power to “invest” in national education lies not with the EU but is a “complementary or supporting EU competency”. It is not a “formal one”- nor a “fait accompli”!

    Member countries still legislate & “invest”- the EU helps.

    https://ec.europa.eu/info/about-european-commission/what-european-commission-does/law/areas-eu-action_en

    I assume all 27 EU members & their underlings would be very happy to be professionally advised to become quicker, better & smarter people.
    Is that only achievable by suggesting the EU “invest”- instead of giving “advice”?

    Europe is full of think tanks. Why not harvest their combined knowledge to “assist” all national governments who want & need advanced technical- not political advice?

    Quote: “The mission of the “European Schools” is to provide a multilingual and multicultural education of high quality from nursery level to the Baccalaureate, fostering a European and global perspective to educate children of different mother tongues and nationalities.”

    Please note that “EU Schools” is not used. I can live with that.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/duncanmadden/2019/01/11/ranked-the-25-smartest-countries-in-the-world/?sh=2b9fe3df163f

  13. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should the EU invest in teaching digital skills?

    First read what they really mean. And what they mean is, invest ‘your’ tax money in educating with digital knowledge.

    Who are they planning on educating digitally with your money? Is it your family members, your local community, your disadvantaged, the ones around your corner that can barely speak a sentence, let alone how to switch on a computer? Or, another group not addressed on the other side of the world? Where the money ‘you invest’ never sees the face of a needy child. Sort of like the donkeys ‘you invest’ in on the TV ads filmed fifty years ago and not a mouthful of donkey food or a vets hand ever saw the light of day around those sorry animals. Take a look in ‘Country Leaders’ massive Swiss bank accounts. Now where did that all come from?

    As far as I can see, until these beggars reveal exactly who and where this ‘investment’ is going be spread, its purpose, how much each will receive and most of all, how it has improved those who receive it on a regular basis, then this question is a con job. Give me you money and I will come back for more as you are such an easy touch.

    The psychological idea of reaching out is very often without intended action. Have a look at all the ‘investment’ you’ve made and the amount received to do whatever it was claimed it would do. Did it do any of these suggested ‘good works’? And if yes, who received the investment and in which way? By how much did it change their lives? Are any funds from the ‘investment’ left over? Was the cost ridiculously expensive to the tax payer? Could what was received have been developed better and at a much lower cost? Who was the geek making decisions as to the project ahead? How well off are they since put in the position to decide where these tax payer funds ended up?

    And this is only the beginning.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lI-BMDnti4c&ab_channel=Chicago-Topic

  14. avatar
    Cauwenberghs

    To many people have no skills, and the administration neither… But the people who lack it know they lack it. The administrations refuse to accept the reality….Thats Europe : freaks, coke-noses, who don’t be able to adapt “their solutions” to the reality of life… Delirious.

  15. avatar
    Ignace

    99.9% of the EU commision lacks even basic intellectual skills. Do we feel confident in their abilities? NOOOOO .

  16. avatar
    Rudi

    The EU should stop its permanent obsessive quest for excuses to expand its role. Just make sure it’s doing good what it has to do!

  17. avatar
    Ribiz

    This is just another perverse manoeuvre, a subversive debate of the EU ! – your propaganda is extremely irritating Do you want to invest in something valuable ? Then invest in a serious music tuition, 2*2 hours / week in each, every priamary school of the EU ! !!!!!! without numeric, without IA !!! Save the soul of the next generation, create employement in art for adults, care for the happiness of the youth !!!! invest in the creation of music instruments, factories in the EU, and organise not competition but yearly spectacles for primary kids in the media …. offer instruments for the kids and their voyage to the yearly speactacle … make something nice in the EU !!! If you did such a valuable intervention, than I shall start to beleive in the new value of “bienveillance” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! you have recently declared…. Stop being a bloody fonctionnalist technocracy !!!

  18. avatar
    Francis

    The EU wastes enough money on vanity projects already. Sucjh skills need to be developed at local or regional level – why try and centralise everything all the time?

  19. avatar
    Johan

    Eu should defund themselfs so people have more money we dont need you shitty burocraticy and taxes

  20. avatar
    Bart

    All lives matter ! Whole world matters ! Also in Europe ! No to extreme right ! No to extremists !

  21. avatar
    Pieter

    eu go home – wherever that is

  22. avatar
    MORTEN LUND

    Should EU start invest in education of EU citizens? Maybe – I dont know.

    Should EU start to fix the overall problem that is causing all the other problems – when looking at what eg. China and USA can achive? Maybe – I dont know.

    Take a company like Apple or Huawei. Apple was first a startup company of great ingenuity and foresight. We have startups like them here in Europe also. Apple got in the beginning, an order from the combined school system in the USA which must have send them skyrocket ahead, like no European company has ever tasted! I mean, never ever tasted!
    Huawei’s history I don’t know – but believe something equal is happened to them again and again.

    There is more to great succes than ingenuity and foresight. If a great math book for elementary school is not bought in for the whole combined EU schoolsystem, it will be a fragmentet marked to sell mathbooks on. So it is for all other things too.

    I need to stop – but could go on for very long. Hope it helps.

    Ps. Why I don’t know if we should compete with China and USA with establishing a similar joint procurement program. Because it influences in more ways.

    I love the European way. Maybe EU should try to expand in the vicinity – and make sure our compassionate freedom (not as free as USA, but way more free and compassionate than China) spreads to some of the poore countries around Europe.

    And dont forget, US is our ally. Maybe we rival – but in the end we need each other.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ MORTEN LUND

      You have written the USA is our ally. In which way is that? Please be specific.

      The financial and economic mess we are in is as a direct result of US global policy. Or, have you missed that little piece of information?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agjGFwpTFaM&ab_channel=TEDxTalks

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