Is Digitalisation a Booster for High-quality and Resilient Education?

Digital technologies, the use of ICTs and Artificial Intelligence have brought a significant and rapid change to the education sector in the last years. Without doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has supported a further shift in the use of “digital” technologies in education, with the key question on whether this change is temporary, or whether it will be sustained and built upon with the full participation of teachers, students and school leaders. The European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and the European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE), together with Education Trade Unions and Education Employers from across Europe, have been closely following this evolution, as well as the impact it has on the education sector.

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on digitalisation in education has been significant. All education systems around Europe resorted to some elements of online education during the initial phases of the pandemic. Education institutions, education personnel and school leaders have generally coped well with the move.  They have demonstrated a positive response to embrace this change and have allowed education to continue. Nevertheless, although there was a largely positive response in most areas of education systems during the crisis, for instance, many students, especially those with a disadvantaged economic and social background, did not benefit equally from this shift.

Furthermore, the exponential use of digitalisation in education is accompanied by a series of new emerging questions and challenges.

Among others, we can find:

  • The impact of the EdTech sector;
  • Data privacy vis-à-vis open science;
  • Intellectual property rights of teachers and students and school leaders;
  • The development of artificial intelligence tools in education;
  • Cyber-violence;
  • And lack of digital infrastructure.

These challenges are urging the whole-education community to initiate common reflections and discussions on the impact that the digital era will have on students, teachers and school leaders.

In this context, and while being in continuous cooperation with other stakeholders in education, including students’ unions, in 2020-2021, ETUCE and EFEE have worked side by side in the social dialogue project “E-Speed – European Social Partners in Education Embracing Digitalisation: Challenges and opportunities for European education trade unions and employer organisations in the digital era”. This initiative, co-funded by the European Commission, aims at addressing the opportunities and challenges brought by the digital era to the education sector. It also identifies practices to ensure equal access to digital skills, in view to improve social inclusion, equal access and quality education for all.

ETUCE and EFEE, recognised as European Sectoral Social Partners in Education, are organising a panel discussion, which will take place on Friday 3 December 2021, bringing together the perspectives of teachers, education employers, students and policymakers in education at the European level, to discuss the future scenarios of education in the digital era. Moving from the findings of the ‘E-Speed’ project and drawing on lessons from emergency online teaching and learning, the speakers from the panel will address a question that is crucial to the future of education: “How to support a systemic education-led recovery for a resilient and high-quality education in a digital area through the participation of all the stakeholders in education?”.  

Building on the experience of social dialogue in education, the panel discussion will also deliver concrete ideas and policy recommendations combining the different perspectives of education stakeholders. Additionally, the event will provide the participants with hands-on experience on how to implement a decision-making process that uses the method of the whole-school approach in education, as well as sharing with them concrete testimonies and experiences of education social partners and students’ representatives to develop a democratic understanding of the challenges, opportunities, and future perspectives of digitalisation in education.

Furthermore, building on their long-standing experience of social dialogue in education, in 2020, the Joint ETUCE/EFEE Statement on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on sustainable education systems at times of crisis and beyond sets up the steps for a sustainable recovery of the education sector. The joint statement also emphasised the importance to build a sustainable approach to digitalisation in education, as regards to the use of digital tools, innovative and inclusive teaching and learning methodologies and competences, as well as infrastructure and working time management.

Looking at the future, the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a promising opportunity to improve the resilience and inclusion of our education system. However, ETUCE and EFEE strongly believe that an impactful recovery in education will only be possible if this change is developed through meaningful involvement of education social partners and other stakeholders from the education sector.

Written for OEB21 by The European Trade Union Committee for Education and The European Federation of Education Employers.

Meet with ETUCE and the EFEE and speakers including, among others, Ruben Janssens, member of the Executive Committee of the European Students’ Union and Larry Flanagan, President of ETUCE and General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland on Friday, Dec 3 at The Role of Digitalision in Shaping an Education-led Recovery for High-quality and Resilient Education.

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