On 8th of July 2020, the European Commission held an online Strategic Dialogue meeting to discuss a “Digital Education Action Plan”. On behalf of the Commission, Georgi Dimitrov, Deputy Head of Unit Innovation and EIT, and Deirdre Hodson, Member of the Digital Education team highlighted the main challenges for a European Digital Education plan, and what the Commission can do to support digital transitions in jobs and beyond. A follow up discussion on the New Digital Education Action Plan took place on 14th of July 2020, with participation of EU’s Innovation and Research Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel.
The “Digital Education Action Plan” will be presented by the Commission in September this year, based on lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis, and aiming to support the development of robust digital competences and organizational capabilities in education and training systems. The new Action Plan will be an important part of the Next Generation EU recovery plan, supporting Member States, education and training institutions, as well as citizens, in their efforts to deal with the digital change. In addition, the Commission has launched an Open Public Consultation on Digital Economy and Society, Education and Training.
The closing of schools and campus buildings has affected more than 100 million students only in the EU. The sudden and large-scale switch to digital education modes, including online learning and teaching, led toa massive population of teachers and students being excluded from online education, because of the lack of digital literacy skills, lack of access due to socioeconomic barriers and/or accessibility due to structural barriers of infrastructures themselves. Most of the disabled children, especially in segregated schools, were left behind in some Member States, without any education.
The Commissioner stated on 14 July that “the overall objective will be to close the digital skills gap and make digital literacy a reality for all”. Developing digital competencies across the EU and promoting gender equality in the digital economy are two key areas that the European Commission will seek to promote. There are also plans to address the striking gaps in digital skills in Europe across ages and geographical locations.
Unfortunately, Commissioner Gabriel did not (clearly) mention the inclusive-accessible digital education for disabled people, as well as other socially excluded groups. On the other hand, in the closing session of the meeting on 8th of July, both representatives of the Commission mentioned the need for new approaches and designing accessible digital tools, but only after NGOs and other stakeholders advocating for the rights of disabled people listed the challenges that need to be addressed in Digital Education.
ENIL was represented at both meetings by our new volunteer, Kyriaki Efthymiou, from Greece, who will be focusing on inclusive education. We welcome the initiative of an Open Public Consultationon Digital Education Plan. We also welcome the fact that the Commission has pointed out some of the challenges, such as lack of skills/competency, tools, digital and media literacy, as well as the need for a trusted Digital educational ecosystem. A key issue that was not stressed enough was the (continuous and pre-existing) exclusion of disabled students and other socially excluded groups from digital education. We need to create and use accessible tools, so that everyone can have equal access to educational digital products and to promote what we stand for: “equal access for all”.
In view of the new “Digital Education Action Plan”, ENIL plans to publish a position paper addressed to the cabinet of the EU’s Innovation and Research Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, to promote the right of disabled children and young people to inclusive education, as required by Article 24 (Education) of the UNCRPD. Our aim is to work together to move EU’s educational and digital policy from segregation and discrimination, towards social and educational inclusion.
Kyriaki Efthymiou, ENIL’s volunteer