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Kroes and Vassiliou outlined their plan to improve teaching with ICT and plug the impending digital skills gap

Kroes and Vassiliou outlined their plan to improve teaching with ICT and plug the impending digital skills gap

European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes and Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth Androulla Vassiliou on Wednesday introduced Opening up Education, the Comission’s initiative to increase the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in classrooms across Europe.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels Neelie Kroes highlighted the need to significantly increase the presence of ICT technologies in European classrooms, arguing that these technologies are essential for providing the next generation with skills necessary to compete in the job market.

“Today, 63 per cent of nine year olds are missing the digital equipment and fast broadband they need at school. Not enough teachers are confident about using ICT technology in the classroom. In some countries, like Greece and Croatia, fewer than half of pupils have internet at school. In most EU countries, fewer than 30 per cent of children aged 10-15 are taught by “digitally confident” teachers, with good access to ICT,” Kroes said. “Europe is falling behind.”

Kroes and Vassiliou unveiled Opening up Education, a sweeping set of 24 new initiatives launching between now and 2015 and designed to create new opportunities for schools, teachers and pupils to use ICT in the classroom, boost the use of open educational resources, help schools get access to better broadband to support e-learning and training, and strengthen cooperation with international stakeholders that will help the Commission explore new ways of learning in the digital era.

The Commission says it is committing “tens of millions” of Euros to the new initiatives.

Commissioner Vassiliou said that part of the challenge is that many teachers lack confidence in their ability to exploit ICT technologies in the classroom, an issue the Commission hopes to address by expanding European platforms for teachers’ communities like eTwinning and EPALE – the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe – and offering more opportunities for professional development through open online courses, one of the newly announced initiatives.

“We have a duty to create a level playing field so that every pupil, every student, every teacher and every adult learner has the opportunity to reach their full potential with the support of digital technologies. We can accept nothing less,” Vassiliou said.

“Teachers know the digital world is important – but they often lack the digital confidence and know-how to bring that world to life. Or they aren’t sure how they need to adapt. Opening up Education is about helping them to do that, to make that transition from gatekeepers to guides, and for education to become more accessible, so that everyone, from school to the ‘university of life’, is on board the digital express,” Vassiliou said before announcing Open Education Europa, an online web portal that builds on the existing eLearning portal and will collate research and educational materials produced with public funding, providing access to teachers and academic institutions across the EU.

Kroes also introduced a platform that will allow stakeholders to benchmark their schools to promote new and innovative teaching practices, and proposed rewarding schools that rank well in order to incentivise experimentation with new techniques.

Both Commissioners stressed the need to get more European youth into ICT at an early age in order to help them develop the digital skills necessary to work in evolving industries, and to avoid a digital skills shortage in Europe. According to the Commission, 90 per cent of jobs will require digital skills by 2020 and a skills shortage looms, echoing the recent findings of a report published UK Commission for Employment and Skills – which also warns of an impending skills gap.

Commissioner Kroes also reaffirmed the need for better infrastructure and access to faster broadband in schools in order to facilitate the initiatives outlined.

“We need and we can close the gap and modernise our educational institutions. We want every school, every classroom to be connected to high speed broadband. We want Member States to upgrade their ICT equipment, including through joint pan-European procurement and to spread digital teaching materials,” Kroes said, adding that Member States will be able to seek funding from the EU Structural Fund.

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