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Local and regional politicians call for improved and more accessible digital education for all European citizens  

In a bid to make the European education system more digital and resilient, local and regional politicians are calling on Member States to utilise a larger proportion of EU funds to improve digital education and to help close the digital gap between rural and urban areas. The suggestions are part of an opinion on the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 which was drafted by Gillian Coughlan (IE/Renew Europe), Member of the Cork County Council, and discussed by the members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 6 May.

The Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 has two overarching priorities: to foster the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem and to enhance the digital skills and competences among the European population. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated an already ongoing shift towards digitalisation in the EU, making digital competences vital in almost all areas of daily life, especially in the workplace and in education. According to Eurostat , many Europeans still lack basic digital skills, however, and the European Court of Auditors has highlighted that digital skills are unevenly distributed among the population based on age, employment, education and geographical location.

Nowhere has the need for a better digital infrastructure become more apparent than in education, where home-schooling and online classes have become a new temporary norm during the pandemic. Gillian Coughlan (IE/Renew Europe), Member of the Cork County Council, teacher and rapporteur of the opinion, said: “I have experienced first-hand how many schools, students and teachers were not prepared for the switch to digital during the pandemic. This was not just the case in Ireland, but all across the EU. It is essential to put in place the digital infrastructure that will give all students and teachers equal chances to prosper and develop their skills. In addition, we must ensure that all European citizens, regardless of their background and socio-economic standing, have equal opportunities to expand their digital competences.”

Victor Negrescu , Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of its Committee on Culture and Education, joined the members of the CoR to discuss the opinion and said: Access to education is a right and this should be the case for digital education. We need to define quality standards for digital education and work closely with local communities and authorities to put them in place at a faster pace. Allocating at least 10% for education in the Recovery Plan is essential and those new available resources should involve local stakeholders in order to increase accessibility, develop the infrastructure, methods and content, and improve the quality of the educational process.”

The opinion identifies the digital gap between rural and urban areas as one of the main problems that the Digital Education Action Plan needs to address. In addition, the opinion also emphasises the importance of improving the digital infrastructure and expanding digital education within the EU, while simultaneously ensuring that digital education is equally accessible to all parts of society, regardless of age, gender, social background, ethnicity or physical and intellectual capacity.

In order to achieve these targets, the European Committee of the Regions calls on the European Commission and Member States to make greater use of the funds made available through the Recovery and Resilience Facility, Erasmus+ and the European Social Fund for digital education. The CoR also calls for direct public funding for the development of new teaching models and promoting 21st century skills at all education levels. Furthermore, members of the CoR welcome the European Skills Agenda and its goal to ensure that 70% of 16 to 74 year-olds have basic digital skills by 2025.

The opinion also stresses the pivotal role that local and regional authorities play regarding education and digital inclusion in their regions and, therefore, seeks reassurance that funds to improve digital education will be distributed on the regional level.

After today's debate, the opinion will be adopted by the CoR's members at the end of the plenary session on 7 May.

Background Information

The EU is currently creating a European Education Area by 2025 which aims to help Member States build resilient and forward-looking education and training systems. The CoR adopted an opinion the European Education Area in March 2021, you can find the press release here .

The EU funds available to member states to improve digital education include the Erasmus+ programme, which has an estimated EUR 26,2 billion budget for the period of 2021-2027 to support education, training, youth and sport in the EU, and the European Social Fund (ESF) , the EU's main instrument for supporting jobs, helping people find better employment and ensuring fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens.

Contact:

Tobias Kolonko

Tel. +32 2 282 2003

tobias.kolonko@ext.cor.europa.eu


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