Opening up Education

EC OEBA recent study of 200 European universities has shown that while one third of them were considering implementing a form of massive open online course, a further third of them did not even know what a MOOC was.


by Pauline Bugler


This lack of MOOCs is just one of several issues targeted by the European Commission’s “Opening up Education” action plan to stimulate high-quality, innovative ways of learning and teaching, introduced by Pierre Mairesse, Director General for Education and Culture of the European Commission, at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2013.


At present, over 60% of nine year olds in the EU attend schools which are still not digitally equipped. The action plan aims to tackle this situation and remove impediments to schools and universities delivering high quality education and digital skills. The situation seems even more pressing as 90% of jobs are likely to require digital skills by 2020: thus digital literacy is a top priority.


Across the EU, between 50% and 80% of students never use digital textbooks, exercise software, broadcasts/podcasts, simulations or learning games. Most teachers at primary and secondary level do not feel digitally confident or able to teach digital skills effectively, prompting some 70% to request more ICT training. A digital divide between those who have access to technology-based education and those without access is on the rise as a result of fragmented approaches and markets, according to an EC statement. A look at Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic shows that more than 90% of pupils there are most likely to have internet access at school. But the percentage is just 45% in Greece and Croatia.


Higher education faces a digital challenge and student numbers in the EU are likely to soar in the next decade. Thus universities must offer blended learning and a mix of face-to-face and online learning possibilities, such as MOOCs. At present, the United States and Asian countries are investing in ICT-based strategies to reshape education and training and there are fears the EU could fall behind.


The three main providers of MOOCs are based in the US and offer around 400 courses with 3 million users worldwide transgressing borders and languages. Greater availability of MOOCs across Europe would give people access to education anywhere, anytime and through any device.


A joint initiative by Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, and Neelie Kroes, Commission Vice-President, responsible for the Digital Agenda, “Opening Up Education” focuses on three main areas, namely: creating opportunities for organisations, teachers and learners to innovate; increased use of Open Educational Resources (OER), ensuring that educational materials produced with public funding are available to all; and improved ICT infrastructure and connectivity in schools.


“The education landscape is changing dramatically, from school to university and beyond: open technology-based education will soon be a ‘must have’, not just a ‘good-to-have’, for all ages. We need to do more to ensure that young people especially are equipped with the digital skills they need for their future. It’s not enough to understand how to use an app or program; we need youngsters who can create their own programmes,” said Commissioner Vassiliou.


Initiatives linked to Opening up Education will be funded with support from Erasmus+, a new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport, and Horizon 2020, a research and innovation programme, as well as EU structural funds. Erasmus+ will offer funding to education providers to ensure business models are adapted to technological change and help teachers develop through open online courses. All educational materials supported by Erasmus+ will be available free to the public under open licences.


A new website,, has been launched by the Commission and will allow students, practitioners and educational institutions to share open educational resources.


Next summer, recommendations to boost the Opening Up Education drive will be published by a high level group dedicated to modernising higher education. Launched by Commissioner Vassiliou and chaired by former Irish president, Mary McAleese, the group is presently assessing how higher education can exploit new modes of teaching and learning.


This initiative also ties in with the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, which was launched in March this year. This multi-stakeholder platform is targeting the lack of ICT skills and up to 900,000 unfilled ICT-related vacancies.

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