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Opening up Education

25 September 2013
by eub2 -- last modified 25 September 2013

More than 60% of nine year olds in the EU are in schools which are still not digitally equipped. The European Commission today unveiled 'Opening up Education', an action plan to tackle this and other digital problems which are hampering schools and universities from delivering high quality education and the digital skills which 90% of jobs will require by 2020. To help kick-off the initiative, the Commission today launches a new website, Open Education Europa, which will allow students, practitioners and educational institutions to share free-to-use open educational resources. Between 50% and 80% of students in EU countries never use digital textbooks, exercise software, broadcasts/podcasts, simulations or learning games. Most teachers at primary and secondary level do not consider themselves as 'digitally confident' or able to teach digital skills effectively, and 70% would like more training in using ICTs. Pupils in Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic are the most likely to have internet access at school (more than 90%), twice as much as in Greece and Croatia (around 45%). Higher education also faces a digital challenge: with the number of EU students set to rise significantly in the next decade, universities need to adapt traditional teaching methods and offer a mix of face-to-face and online learning possibilities, such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which allow individuals to access education anywhere, anytime and through any device. But many universities are not ready for this change. The initiative focuses on three main areas: 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 Better ICT infrastructure and connectivity in schools.


What does the Commission mean by 'opening up education'?

Opening up education means bringing the digital revolution into education. Digital technologies allow all individuals to learn, anywhere, anytime, through any device, with the support of anyone.

What are the main objectives of this initiative?

    Create opportunities for organisations, teachers, students and pupils to be more innovative in the way they teach and learn by making more use of digital technologies and content. The Commission will provide support for organisations to review their strategies, promote reforms to improve teacher training, set up 'communities of practice' among teachers, and encourage innovative curricula.

    Boost the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) by ensuring that educational materials produced with public funding, such as Erasmus+, the new EU programme for education, are freely available to all. The new 'Open Education Europa' portal, launched today, will provide a gateway to high-quality OER produced in Europe, in their original language. OER are learning content, generally in digital form, that can be used and shared, free of charge for users.

    Increase transparency for users of educational resources regarding copyright.

    ICT infrastructure and connectivity in schools is often poor. Opening up Education will help schools and classrooms to get broadband access and support ICT infrastructure for education and training. It will also stimulate the market to produce new interactive content and learning tools by promoting the development of open frameworks and standards for interoperability and portability of digital educational content, applications and services.

    Strengthen cooperation with international organisations and stakeholders to better understand the impact of technology in education and explore new modes of teaching and learning.

What concrete actions are specified?

This Communication includes 24 actions that will greatly improve the use of digital technologies in education and boost digital skills (see annex for full list).

How will these 24 actions be funded/implemented?

The actions will receive EU funding from Erasmus+, Horizon 2020, the new programme for research and innovation, as well as Structural and Investment Funds. For example, from 2014, Erasmus+ will offer funding to education providers to ensure they adapt their business model to technological change, boost the assessment of digital skills and support teachers' development through open online courses. All educational materials supported by Erasmus+ will be available to the public free of charge under open licences. Implementation will also be supported through the Open Method of Coordination in Education and Training 2020.

Why is Commission action needed now?

Because we use digital technology in every aspect of life, but many schools and universities are not keeping pace with this revolution.

For example, a study shows that

    63% of 9-year olds study in schools which lack appropriate digital equipment, fast broadband and high connectivity;

    Between 50% and 80% of students in EU countries never use digital textbooks, exercise software, broadcasts/podcasts, simulations or learning games

    70% of teachers would like training to improve their ICT skills.

The EU lacks a critical mass of good quality educational content and applications in specific subjects and multiple languages. This fragmentation of approaches and of markets could lead to new digital divide between those who have access to innovative, technology-based education and those who do not.

What has the Commission done to address this problem so far?

Several projects and good practices have been developed so far, including with the support of EU research and innovation funding. Many of these have been very successful, for example ITEC: designing the future classroom, or Open Discovery Space. However, the integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in education and training has not yet been realised to its full potential.

Opening up Education addresses this by helping national administrations, educational institutions, teachers, learners and stakeholders better coordinate their action and discover new ways of working and learning.

What will be the impact of Opening up Education?

    More and better open learning environments (OLEs) – meaning widespread uptake of ICTs in the classroom.

    Cost savings and better education outcomes through increased use of Open Educational Resources (OERs) such as free-to-use textbooks, videos, tests, and software which can be adaptable to specific learning needs. Since OERs are available at no cost for users, they could make education and training cheaper, for administrations, institutions and for users.

    Organisational change in schools, universities and training institutions to support integration of new technologies and high-quality OER.

    Better ICT infrastructure and connectivity in schools

    Greater demand for new interactive content and learning tools, helping to build new businesses in Europe around these educational needs.

When will we see an impact?

The timeline of the 24 actions vary. The Open Education Europa portal opens today, some existing projects will increase in scale, and others such as EPALE, the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe, will be launched in early 2015.

What will the 'Open Education Europa' website do?

Open Education Europa is a one-stop shop for open educational resources in Europe. A place where you can find material in your own language, which teachers and students can use and share for free.

How does Opening Up Education relate to the Commission's annual Country-Specific Recommendations for Member States?

Once a year the Commission reviews the economic and social performance of each EU Member State and makes country-specific recommendations to guide national policies in the coming year. Opening up Education is part of the Commission's response to this objective at EU level.

All Member States received recommendations relating to education in the 2013 European Semester Country-Specific Recommendations. The latest CSR report – Moving Europe Beyond the Crisis, published May 2013, spells out the need across all Member States for greater investment in education, in equipping young people with the skills needed for the 21st century economy and for boosting innovation and competitiveness.

STUDENTS: What will Opening up Education mean for students?

More of the digital skills they need to get good jobs, after completing their education, especially for students without good internet and technology access at home.

TEACHERS: What will it mean for teachers?

More of the digital training and skills they need to be confident in the classroom. Opening up Education will support teachers' professional development through open online courses, in line with a project of the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, and by creating new (or by scaling up existing) European platforms for teachers' communities of practice across the EU such as eTwinning and EPALE - the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe.

GOVERNMENTS: What will it mean for national authorities?

Many national authorities have invested massively in ICT for education and training, yet this investment rarely yields the expected returns. Opening up Education represents an opportunity for Member States to work together and to learn from each others' experiences, avoiding duplication and lowering costs.

INDUSTRY: What will it means for digital and education businesses?

Besides educational institutions, education is also backed by an industry, which provides textbooks, eLearning tools and applications for mathematics, for language learning, learning games and other education material. Using technology more extensively in education opens a new set of opportunities for industry, and coordinating at the European level will speed up the growth of these markets.

How will traditional educational publishers be affected?

The European Commission recognises the disruption digital technologies bring to past business models, but highlights the need for publishers to work closely with authorities, institutions and ICT companies to take up the new opportunities that come with these new ways of learning.

Publishers are concerned that Open Educational Resources do not match the strict quality control procedures that have characterised the print market; the Commission continues to support high quality materials, and remains neutral as to specific business models.

What will this mean for intellectual property rights?

Studies show that more than 50% of teachers do not share their teaching material, because they are concerned about the legal consequences. This prevents collaborative and personalised teaching and learning practices.

Open Educational Resources are usually made available under licenses that allow free use, re-use and sharing. While these open licenses do not challenge the current intellectual property rights framework, they can still represent a challenge to the traditional business models of publishers or universities.

Opening up Education will facilitate experiments to test the impact on business models, and encourage the exchange of best practices. It also proposes to develop technical solutions which provide transparent information on copyrights and open licences to users of digital educational resources. For example, the industry initiative Linked Content Coalition which aims at making it easier to identify copyright owners, therefore facilitating the legal use of copyrighted materials.

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