According to the European Committee of the Regions, education policy strategies in Member States and regions should prioritise cooperation at all levels of governance to align high quality, innovative, digital and learner-centred education with new needs of the labour market. The assembly of EU's cities and regions welcomes the European Commission's proposal for a Digital Education Action Plan but calls for more efforts to reduce the digital divide, to support teachers and educators and to develop young people's media literacy.
In an opinion drafted by Domenico Gambacorta (IT/EPP), President of Province of Avellino, the Committee highlights that digital education is an opportunity to address educational challenges: it can provide more personalised and inclusive teaching, reduce the learning gap between people from different socio-economic backgrounds and facilitate the integration of migrants by providing them support in their own language. It is therefore important that the Digital Education Action Plan is adequately supported by the EU's next multiannual budget as well as from resources from national budgets. The opinion was adopted at the plenary session on 10 October.
"By enhancing access to information, digital transformation can make citizens better informed and stimulate civic engagement. We need to make this transformation inclusive by reducing the existing digital divide in terms of gender, age and different geographical, ethnical and socio-economic backgrounds", rapporteur Gambacorta underlines.
"We need to ensure that all educational establishments, educators and learners are ready for the digital revolution. This means equipping all schools, universities and other establishments with the necessary high-speed and high quality broadband infrastructure, as well as providing adequate support and training to teachers and school directors so that they can innovate traditional education methodologies and make learning more blended and hybrid".
The Committee calls for a vast campaign of training initiatives for teachers and educational operators to strengthen their ICT skills and suggests providing teachers free digital educational materials through cooperation with private and public stakeholders. It points out the risk that large digital companies, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, may impose their standards in education by providing their hardware, software and educational resources.
"At the same times users must be aware of the risks in the digital environment. By developing children's young people's critical thinking and media literacy they can better judge and overcome the overwhelming diffusion of fake news", Mr Gambacorta continues. His report also suggests introducing new innovative teaching and assessment methods to exploit the potential that rapid feedback loops offer for more personalised and efficient learning.
In a separate opinion on the role of youth, education and culture policies for building a stronger Europe, local and regional leaders set out their recommendations on the European Commission's communication which outlines the steps towards the European Education Area by 2025, with the aim to promote cross-border mobility and cooperation and language learning, to automatically recognise qualifications acquired in another Member State and to support Member States to drive up the quality, competitiveness and inclusiveness of their education and training systems.
The Committee points out the need to give additional support to regions where the mobility of learners may be hindered by obstacles such as population deficit, rurality or poverty. "We must also ensure the affordability of early childhood services for low-income families and provide dedicated support to children with special educational needs and disabilities, as well as to migrant children", rapporteur Gillian Ford (UK/EA), Member of London Borough of Havering, emphasised.
However, as funding for cohesion policy is expected to reduce in the next EU budget, the Committee expresses its concerns over the available funding through the European Social Fund for delivery of these ambitions.
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