1. Introduction

“Technology can become the ‘wings’ that will allow the educational world to fly farther and faster than ever before; if we will allow it” – Jenny Arledge 

Over the past decades, many initiatives and investments have been undertaken to prepare teachers for deploying digital teaching methods and developing digital skills. Over recent years digitalisation has become increasingly important in pupils’ lives. Often, the knowledge gained from seminars about digital teaching methods was not adopted in  classes – also due to insufficient access to technological devices in schools. Here, the preconditions of Member States are on different levels. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot and one of the most major things that has been affected by the pandemic is education. With schools being shut in many places around the world and a wide uptake of online and distance learning, education has changed significantly.

In order to keep education going, schools and other educational institutions have become heavily reliant on using digital methods to facilitate teaching. This unprecedented use of technology for learning revealed many new opportunities for both teachers and students. In many cases teaching staff has been asked to ensure the continuation of education by working from home. Many teachers started adopting new methods of teaching which are more suited to digital  education. Despite the need for telelearning, only 39% Teachers in the EU feel well prepared for using digital technologies in their daily work.

The shift to an online platform was also challenging due to the fact that there were and still are many children for whom the organisation of distance learning is difficult due to the lack of appropriate digital devices and an access to stable internet connection. Access to broadband internet varies significantly across the EU, ranging from 74% of households for the lowest-income quartile to 97% in the highest-income quartile. Here, someMember States experienced shortcomings in the system and lack in digital readiness. In order to tackle these problems and to be able to continue with education as soon as possible, the majority of Member States acted hastily and often without proper planning.

In addition, schools play a crucial role in enabling students to integrate themselves into the 21st-century job market and acquire the necessary skills needed in order to keep pace with the digital transformation of our societies. The COVID-19 pandemic is not only making the digitisation of sectors such as education more important than ever, but it is also making digital skills a necessity for employees to work from home successfully. Due to the pandemic many companies applied digital working methods which were very productive and worked out as an advantage. Thus, digital working could become the new standard for many of them. However, it is acknowledged that there is an increasing mismatch between the different skills students learn at school and the skills required in the labour market. More than one in five young people fail to reach a basic level of digital skills across the EU. This can lead to high unemployment rates, especially in ICT-based jobs.

  1. Key Terms

  • Digitalisation is the use of digital technologies and taking advantage of them.
  • Digitisation is the change from analog to digital form, e.g. converting handwriting into digital form.
  • ICT: Information and communication technologies
  • Distance learning is a method of studying in which lectures are broadcast or lessons are conducted by correspondence, without the student needing to physically attend a school or college.
  1. Key Stakeholders

European Commission: Serves as the executive branch of the EU, is responsible for proposing legislation as well as implementing EU policies and budget regarding ongoing topics representing the EU’s interests. When it comes to proposing legislation for education, the EU has supporting competences, that is to say, it can only support, coordinate, or supplement the action of Member States and their national legislation. It can scale up innovation in all Member States’ education systems through exchange of best practices, peer learning or evidence sharing.

Directorate-General for Education and Culture: This department develops and carries out the Commission’s policies on Culture and media, Sport, Education and training and Youth. The department also supports these policies through a broad range of projects and programs such as Erasmus+ and the European Institute of Innovation and technology. They have worked out a strategy for education and training until 2020 which focussed on lifelong learning, the quality and efficiency of education, equality and innovation. To make Europe fit for the digital age they will propose a roadmap with clearly defined goals for 2030, such as for connectivity, skills and digital services.

Member States: As education is a supporting competence of the EU, Member States have the primary responsibility for this area. They are responsible for shaping their education policies through the content of teaching such as digital skills and the organisation of their education and training systems. The education systems in different Member States vary greatly, showing education as a policy where Member States act differently to fulfill different needs and where different preconditions predominate.

Technology providers provide citizens with the newest digital hardware and have special offers for educational institutions and schools such as Apple and Microsoft. The big concerns are offering a discount for teachers and pupils for their devices. Furthermore, platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams adopted their technologies and now provide free access to an online classroom, so students and teachers can find new ways to continue to focus on learning. In addition, concerns such as Microsoft offer a great variety of free online courses both for pupils and teachers in order to acquire new skills for the digital environment as well as ICT based skills.

  1. Challenges and measures in place

The lack of skills linked to  ICT

ICT has been playing a crucial role in education over the past decade. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic ICT has developed rapidly, especially in the field of teaching and learning. It minimised the face-to-face meetings in school for learning and later totally changed it into a full online version. This rapid change revealed existing problems in Member States concerning digitisation.

Firstly, there is a lack of digital skills in the population. Currently, 42% of European citizens lack basic digital skills such as the use of digital devices, communication with applications, accessing networks and managing information. Moreover, 37% of the people in the labor force lack sufficient digital skills, not counting the fact of increasing need for such skills in all jobs.  Even though Member States have been greatly investing in digital infrastructure for education and training in recent years there are still about 15% of the student population who lack digital skills. These numbers make it very difficult to have an effective digital working and educational system within all Member States. Also the lack of ICT skills makes it harder for the younger generation to be successful in the labor market.

The EU code week is a program aimed to make coding and digital literacy accessible and fun for everyone. It is run by different volunteers and 4.2 million people from more than 80 countries participated in the program in 2019. On average the participants were 11 years old and 49% of them were female. Around 92% of EU Code Week events took place in schools, which show that efforts to empower teachers during the 2019 campaign have been successful.

The different preconditions 

As more than 180 countries have closed  their schools since April 2020, many of them have started exploring new options for making education accessible and interactive for all students. They tried out different methods using technologies such as TV, radio and the internet, however, the amount of technologies accessible to many countries is limited especially among lower income  households. Moreover, technology can provide a lot of useful opportunities such as access to special materials beyond textbooks and also many formats that can fill time and space, but lack of technology and good internet connection could become an obstacle in the long run. For instance, whilst 96% of students in Denmark and Poland have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 79% in Germany do. Thus, it is very difficult  to implement and develop successful eLearning platforms and methods that work for every Member State. A lot of things need to be considered such as political landscape, technology opportunities, resources and the actual learning outcome needed.

eTwinning is an online platform funded by the Erasmus+, the European programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport. It was created for head teachers, teachers, librarians and other members of staff in schools in order to collaborate, help each other, innovate, share different practices and develop a variety of projects.

The Digital Competence Framework 2.0 (DigComp 2.0) was also adopted by the European Commission and identifies the key components of digital competence for citizens. It focuses on 5 main areas: Communication and Collaboration, Safety,  Digital content creation,  Information and data literacy and Problem solving. It has become a reference for many digital competence initiatives at both European and Member State levels.

The effectiveness of online education

The effectiveness of online education varies from country to country. The ones that have been able to implement interesting strategies and interactive methods to involve the children in the work have shown great results. Research shows that on average students retain 25-60% more information while learning online compared with 8-10% in the classroom.  Also, e-learning requires 40-60% less time and effort to learn than traditional classrooms as students are allowed to learn at their own pace, skipping, going back and forward in the text, etc. Furthermore, the effectiveness is also dependent on the age of the students. Young aged children tend to need a strictly structured environment as they are easily distracted.

In 2021, the European Commision created the Digital Education Action Plan which outlines the Commissions’ view on accessible, innovative and inclusive digital education in Europe. The plan focuses on two major strategies. The Fostering of development on a high-performing digital education ecosystem, which needs digital equipment, good internet connection, digitally competent teachers, etc. The second strategie is the enhancement of digital skills and competences for a digital transformation.

  1. Further Questions

  • What steps should be taken to make emerging digital technologies more successful and widely used in the education sector?
  • What are the associated challenges and blocking factors for using emerging digital technologies in education?
  • Who are the main stakeholders responsible for the solution of the topic?
  • What measures should be implemented to reduce the differences of the preconditions between Member States?
  1. Further Research

  • Factsheet Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027); you can also read the Digital Education Action Planitself, it contains a lot of important information.
  • Article about COVID 19 and the schools closures and especially the situation in Germany
  • Get an overview of how different countries are using digital learning methods to support access to remote learning during the pandemic
  • Overview about ICT and youth
  • Here you can find some more interesting data about the educational situation during COVID-19 in Europe and around the world

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