As the impact of the pandemic increasingly reveals the crucial value of digital skills for anyone to be able to navigate a world transformed by digital technology, how prominently feature digital skills in the priorities of the European Union?
On 18 November, EIF organized a virtual debate titled “A European digital skills strategy”, hosted by MEP Victor Negrescu, in order to address the pros and cons of the Digital Education Action Plan and the updated Skills Agenda.
The discussion, moderated by EIF Director-General, Maria Rosa Gibellini, featured the following speakers:
- Alina Ujupan, Member of Cabinet of Executive VP Vestager, European Commission
- Izabela Milewska, Digital Skills Global Leader, Amazon Web Services
- Nenja Wolbers, Project Manager, Digital Opportunities Foundation
- Rok Kvaternik, CEO, Ernst Klett Publishers, Region Eastern Europe & Baltics
- Janine Costa, Education Attaché, Coordination Education, Youth and Sports, Portuguese Permanent Representation
Victor Negrescu MEP kicked-off the discussion by acknowledging the necessity of digital skills in the context of the technological evolutions, but also the pandemic, which are now changing the world. The data available at EU level show that almost half of the EU population is not properly digitally skilled, while 90% of future jobs will require some level of digital skills. According to MEP Negrescu, we need to develop digital literacy, in order for people to be enabled to benefit from the opportunities that are available to them. Moreover, we need to promote the concept of digital citizenship that is linked with the need of developing digital skills.
Victor Negrescu also highlighted the need to act not only at European level, but also at national and local levels, working with stakeholders which might have different position, but involving everyone in the process is absolutely necessary. The digital revolution has already started, we cannot go back. Either we are leading the process or, by following others or ignoring the situation, we are losing the game, MEP Negrescu concluded.
Alina Ujupan of the European Commission seconded Mr. Negrescu’s opinion, adding that the pandemic has shown us that we are not as digitized as we thought we were. In her opinion, investment is not the answer to everything, and after equipping ourselves with tools and skills, we will need to integrate them in our daily life. The new strategy put in place by the Commission, the ‘New Skills Agenda” has clear and ambitious targets.
Ms. Ujupan also shared a few of the Commission’s actions that are in the pipeline, namely the recommendation to the Council on online learning for primary and secondary education, the network of advisory services to support educational institutions to digitize, the European Digital Skills Certificate that would hopefully be implemented in 2022, and the strategic dialogue that has been kicked-off with stakeholders, as much more flexibility in policy is needed. In conclusion, Alina Ujupan called for reforms together with investment. It is not enough just to have the skills, you need literacy. Reforms are needed in the labour market to ensure that the digitalization process is driven by us, in our interest, and also that is in line with our European values.
Izabela Milewska supported the idea of reforms and stressed that, despite the decline in many sectors, the ICT and digital industry is growing and requires a lot more talent than is available: the number of cloud jobs grew by 81%. To respond to this great demand, the emphasis needs to be put on medium and advanced technical skills. The reforms are much needed, Ms. Milewska added, to ensure flexibility, openness and transparency with local and regional employers organisations, as a close partnership between private and public organisations is absolutely a key to success for all the different reskilling and upskilling strategies.
Nenja Wolbers strengthened the case for civil society when it comes to the Digital Education Action Plan and especially, when it comes to the goal of creating a European Digital Skills certificate. According to Ms. Wolbers, we need to make sure that civil Society is very much represented in this development - all target groups should be considered, also those who are not on the labour market. Those organisations and institutions who provide digital competence trainings must also be involved when we talk about a common European Certification framework.
It is important to invite them to the table as they know how to make all citizens digitally literate and htis is more and more important in these times. People need to become digitally literate for the democracies.
Rok Kvaternik brought the perspective of European publishers, who believe that achieving digital skills implies the interaction of 4 pillars: hardware, platforms, teacher trainings, and digital learning content. Mr. Kvaternik shared case studies of countries where teachers’ digital skills are rapidly growing (Estonia, Serbia and Montenegro). In Estonia, for instance, all publishers joined forces, creating a platform offering over 300 titles, while the Ministry of Economy finances access for students and teachers. In other countries, such as Slovenia, Croatia and Bulgaria, the governmental investments in Open Education Resources (OER) did not have the desired impact on digital skills.
Cooperation between ministries and content providers (publishers) is crucial for the development of efficient digital ecosystems with rapidly growing digital skills, said Mr. Kvaternik. The role of the ministry in this case would be: to secure high speed internet and hardware, the initial teacher training, to create an environment for experts, and to finance access to materials.
According to Mrs. Janine Costa, skills are fundamental to the capacity of people and countries to succeed in a rapidly changing world. The covid-19 pandemic has put an unprecedented pressure on education and training sectors, creating a drastic shift to distance teaching and learning. This shift has brought different challenges, including digital, but also equity and inclusion issues. Governments need to understand the nature of these changes and how to implement the right policies to ensure that digitalisation promotes indeed sustainable and inclusive growth and empowers people with a capacity to succeed in a rapidly evolving environment.
Mrs. Costa added that, over the past 2 decades, many investment initiatives have been undertaken within digital education in the Member States, but these initiatives were often limited in scale and had marginal impact at system level. it is essential to adequately prepare citizens for an increasing globalized and interconnected future by investing in skills needed to succeed and to participate in society.