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Technology, inclusion and European cooperation are the drivers of change at the service of the schools of tomorrow, according to European education leaders speaking at the recent online conference, EMINENT 2021.

As part of its annual EMINENT conference, European Schoolnet brought together Ministers of Education, representatives from the European Parliament and European Commission, and high-level experts from several EU countries to discuss why and how inclusion and digital education should be at the centre of Europe’s future policy reforms.

School education beyond COVID-19

The pandemic has caused massive disruptions to education, but it has also accentuated the difficulties which this sector was already experiencing before the crisis to adapt to the digital era.

During the opening session of EMINENT, Jan de Craemer, Chair of European Schoolnet said: “The COVID crisis clearly exposed a number of barriers for digital education, ranging from outdated infrastructure and lack of skills of many teachers to general unreadiness for the digital world. While we were perceiving the digital divide to be a lack of skills or a lack of cultural capital to make the most of technology, it is now very clear that a special focus is also needed for pupils and students of vulnerable and underprivileged families. An inclusive society needs to take digital inclusion very seriously and it's my strong belief that ICT can make the biggest difference for pupils with special needs.”

Are new technologies “the solution”?

Speakers at the conference recognised that emerging technologies and, in particular, artificial intelligence (AI) can contribute to teaching and learning in a positive and effective way. However, they also stressed that these are not the only solution. Marc Durando, Executive Director at European Schoolnet explained: “Technology alone does not transform education as such. Digitalisation is not systematically improving learning or fixing all inequalities or other challenges. We should now be looking for higher levels of innovation and, more particularly, it is important to identify those learning activities where the use of educational technologies is beneficial and can really make a difference. The challenge is how we can reimagine the technologies we use in education to address equity, diversity issues and other challenges.”

The political momentum

As Sabine Verheyen, Chair of the Education and Culture Committee of the European Parliament mentioned in her speech: “Policymakers should take this exceptional moment as an opportunity to re-imagine what education can and should be in the 21st century.”

To help countries implement ambitious reforms and find new models of learning, European cooperation, with the support of the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility instrument, will play a major role. Digital education is one of the strategic priorities in the recovery plans submitted by Member States for after the pandemic. In this context, different reforms and innovative approaches have already been proposed at the national level, in line with the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027). This plan is a renewed European Union policy initiative to support the sustainable and effective adaptation of the education and training systems of EU Member States within the digital age.

During the conference, Ministers of Education from Croatia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, explained, in detail, plans to transform their education systems in their respective countries. Plans include initiatives to foster inclusion, the use of educational technology, and innovative pedagogies in partnership with EdTech start-ups, but also to support new schooling and assessments models, prevent mental health problems with emotional wellbeing initiatives, protecting students from potential risks associated with the use of technologies, reform of the curricula, and improving students’ motivation for learning.

This report as well as other outcomes of the conference will be widely disseminated to support policymakers, teacher training institutes and industry.

Source: European Schoolnet