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European Education Summit: Future education needs must be addressed at all levels of government  

​Members of the European Committee of the Regions were invited to represent the EU's regions and cities at the yearly European Education Summit organised by the European Commission on 9 December. This provided an opportunity to underline the essential contribution of local and regional authorities to developing high-quality digital education and skills, to reinforcing active European citizenship and to responding to future challenges in the field of education and training. This year's event was organised fully online.

Speaking in a high-level panel on Strategies for a successful digital education transformation, the CoR's SEDEC Commission Chair Anne Karjalainen (FI/PES) underlined that the CoR has been calling for a truly European approach to digital education in the future, leaving nobody behind, however small or remote the region. This means raising the concept of digital cohesion alongside the social, economic and territorial cohesion, considering digital connectivity as a public good and developing digital skills systematically, also through lifelong learning.

"High-quality digital education goes hand in hand with digital cohesion, ensuring the right to connectivity for every European citizen, regardless of where they live or of their socio-economic background. Local and regional authorities are instrumental in making digital cohesion a reality on the ground and therefore ensuring digital education fit for the future", said Ms Karjalainen, Chair of Kerava City Council in Finland.

Emil Boc (RO/EPP), Mayor of Cluj-Napoca, participated in a discussion on Education for active citizenship. The former Prime Minister of Romania (2008-2012) explained that the rural-urban hub of Cluj-Napoca is tackling the challenge of civic education "with respect for the local identity and with a humble approach of trying to get to the bottom of local traditions through collaboration and joint actions in solving problems and challenges".

"The Committee of the Regions can first of all show that it cares for these communities and that we all value the effort of tackling with local resources the divides and need for more active citizenship. And only after then, to act: with concrete action plans and designed support to provide the missing tools and knowledge. From that point on, top-down institutions and bottom-up initiatives become one, and the long-term effects can actually change dynamics and put villages and cities on a positive track of sustainable development", Mr Boc continued.

In the panel on Future education trends and developments, Gillian Coughlan (IE/Renew Europe), Member of Cork County Council, underlined the need to address the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on education and learners. "Morale in schools is very low, among teachers and students. Covid weariness is pervasive and we adults can sometimes forget that young people are so much more constrained than we are, they now feel as if the whole world is saying 'no' to them much of the time", explained Ms Coughlan, who is teacher herself.

Ms Coughlan warned against the demotivating impact of online learning and pointed out that some students risk falling out of the formal education system. "So more resources need to be concentrated on students' mental health and on integrating recreation in to the school day, safely. Every school should have a home-school liaison officer who can guide students and guardians through challenging times", she suggested.

The CoR and the European Commission have stepped up their cooperation in the field of education with the signature of a Joint Action Plan in November 2020. The state of the play of the Action Plan and the next steps will be discussed at the SEDEC Commission meeting on Monday 13 December with the presence of Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

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