23 May 2023

On 23 May EIF organised a debate hosted by Sabine Verheyen MEP on digital skills in education with a focus on how to equip learners for the Digital Decades of the Future. The MEP was joined by the following guest speakers:
Csaba Borboly, Committee of the Regions rapporteur, President of the Harghita County Board, Romania
Carlos Carus, EMEA Education Program Ambassador, Amazon Web Services
Armand Leblois, Regional Lead, Cisco Networking Academy Europe CIS
Nichole Francis Reynolds, VP & Head of Global Government Relations, ServiceNow

Digital Skills in Education: Equipping Learners for the Digital Decades of the Future

Sabine Verheyen MEP, in her opening remarks, declared that digital literacy is one of the most important skills that the European Union should master in the future, as it would be also a decisive factor for the job market. She compared the digitisation of educational systems across EU countries, praising the Nordic and Baltic nations for their achievements in digital education and mentioned the objectives of the Digital Education Action Plan, which is one of the goal to achieve the European Education Area by 2025: to foster infrastructure, connectivity, and digital equipment; to enhance digital skills. Ms. Verheyen praised the Plan's focus on inclusion and non-formal education, along with the strengthening of teacher training. The three points for a successful digital transformation are: teaching teachers, promoting lifelong learning, and developing necessary digital infrastructure not only in schools but also in VET training and universities. She advocated for the need of improved infrastructure and competences to support students, teachers, and professors in a digital environment.

Csaba Borboly, Committee of the Regions rapporteur and president of Harghita County Board, stressed the importance of equipping students with digital skills from an early age and widening participation in STEM disciplines. Digital innovation and technologies play a critical role in shaping society, economy, and communication methods. He highlighted the need for updating educational systems to meet current realities and future labour market needs, promoting universal access to digital resources, and supporting education providers through programs like Erasmus+ and Horizon. Mr. Borboly emphasised the importance of local and regional authorities in implementing digital skills initiatives in schools and urged the modification of the Digital Education Action Plan and financial instruments to reduce the digital divide in less-developed areas. He concluded by underlining the need to train teachers in digital integration and fostering a culture of risk-taking in education systems to spur creation and innovation.

Carlos Carus, from Amazon Web Services, highlighted the market opportunity and the transformative role of cloud computing across sectors. He revealed that there are five million unfilled jobs in cloud technologies, which hinder companies' ability to use AI and big data. This skill shortage is preventing companies from leveraging advanced technologies, posing a challenge to the tech industry. To address this challenge, AWS is committed to training 25 million people for free. Mr. Carus outlined three strategic areas: helping companies upskill their workforce, bridging the gap between market demand and what students offer, and long-term talent development. Lastly, he emphasised the importance of encouraging young students, especially girls, to pursue technical careers through programs that introduce technology and STEM in a gamified way. He concluded by urging collective effort to integrate technology into education at all levels and seize the massive market opportunity of cloud computing.

Nichole Francis Reynolds started her speech by acknowledging that certain jobs are likely to be displaced, due to the potential disruption caused by automation. However, she pointed to an emerging demand for IT jobs, fueled by the need to develop millions of apps over the next years. She underscored the importance of reskilling people, understanding their requirements – whether they need hard or soft skills, addressing potential language barriers, and providing appropriate training. To address this, ServiceNow launched a program called RiseUp with the objective to train 1 million people by 2024. Ms. Reynolds revealed that ServiceNow was recently awarded a grant to provide training in cybersecurity, a skill set she deemed extremely crucial given the increasing frequency of cyberattacks. She concluded by affirming ServiceNow's commitment to be a proud partner in the European Union's effort to prepare and reskill their workforce, with a core mission of leaving no one behind.

Armand Leblois outlined Cisco’s main pillars for upskilling and matching the EU Digital Decades targets: inclusion, flexibility, and partnership. Firstly, he emphasized the role of Cisco Networking Academy in upskilling individuals across Europe. He expressed concern over the low percentage of female learners, particularly within the EU. To combat this disparity, it is necessary a dual approach of sparking interest in tech careers at a young age and targeting adult reskilling programs for unemployed or underemployed women. Secondly, Mr. Leblois touched upon the concept of inclusion, emphasizing the necessity to educate future employers about digital transformation not only in large tech companies, but also in small and medium-sized businesses, where digital transformation is still not fully realized. Furthermore, he suggested curriculum reform to make it more responsive to the rapidly evolving tech industry. Lastly, underscoring the significance of partnership, he called for industry leaders to collaborate and develop a comprehensive solution for educators and learners.



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