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Europe’s digital transformation will accelerate with the rapid advance of new technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and cloud computing and blockchain. Like previous major technological advances, digitisation affects how people live, interact, study and work. Some jobs will disappear, others will be replaced, new jobs will be created, many jobs and industries will be transformed and new activities will emerge. This makes investing in one’s digital skills throughout life of the utmost importance.
While there are many opportunities arising from digital transformation, the biggest risk today is of a society ill-prepared for the future. If education is to be the backbone of growth and inclusion in the EU, a key task is preparing citizens to make the most of the opportunities and meet the challenges of a fast-moving, globalised and interconnected world.
Reform efforts continue every year, yet a persistent divide exists between and within the EU Member States, in particular regarding digital infrastructure and skills, all of which hinders inclusive growth. Vulnerable groups are particularly affected by this situation. In addition, the lack of interest among girls to pursue studies information and communication technologies (ICT) and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) remains a clear problem. This leads to lost social and economic opportunities and risks reinforcing gender inequality.
Education can benefit from opening classrooms, real-life experiences and projects, and form new learning tools, materials and open educational resources. Learners can be empowered by online collaboration. Access to and the use of digital technologies can help reduce the learning gap between students from high and low socioeconomic backgrounds. Personalised teaching can result in increased motivation by focusing on individual learners. However, progress on integrating technology in education remains limited.
More than 80 % of young people in Europe use the internet for social activities. Mobile access to the internet significantly increased over the last years. But the use of technology for educational purposes lags behind. Not all primary and secondary schools in the EU have broadband connections and not all educators have the competences and confidence to use digital tools to support their teaching. A recent study showed that in 2015 an estimated 18 % of primary and secondary schools in the EU were not connected to broadband.
Innovation in education systems understood as the adoption of new services, technologies, competencies by education organisations, can help to improve learning outcomes, enhance equity and improve efficiency. It is most effective and sustainable when embraced by well-trained teachers and embedded in clear teaching goals. More needs to be done on how to best use digital means to reach education objectives.
Digital advances also bring new challenges for Europe’s pupils, students and teachers. Algorithms used by social media sites and news portals can be powerful amplifiers of bias or fake news, while data privacy has become a key concern in the digital society. Young people, as well as adults, are vulnerable to cyberbullying and harassment, predatory behaviour or disturbing online content. Everyday exposure to digital data-driven largely by inscrutable algorithms creates clear risks and requires more than ever critical thinking and the ability to engage positively and competently in the digital environment. We face a constantly evolving need for media literacy and a wide mix of digital skills and competences including safety, security and privacy, but getting them to the wider population and more advanced professions and sectors remains a challenge.
From the Digital Education Action Plan (EU 2018)