The European Union has singled education and training as one of its priorities with the adoption of the Lisbon Strategy, its overarching program focusing on growth and jobs.
Future European competitiveness – dependent on our ability to provide the best education for our children
Since then this area has been given added impetus and a broad agreement has been reached that increased collaboration between the Member States is essential if we are to remain of the leading knowledge based economies in the world.
ICT plays a crucial role in today’s economy and its role is only likely to increase. For the EU as a whole, the ICT sector share of total business value added is 8.5 % and the ICT sector employment constitutes 3 % of total business sector employment in the EU. However, the most important benefits of ICT arise from its effective use. ICT investments also help to raise labor productivity and its use throughout the value chain enables firms to increase their overall efficiency and makes them more competitive.
Therefore it is important that ICT is present in our children’s lives from early on. The computer and Internet revolutions have resulted in a number of changes in how we approach learning and teaching. Students and teachers today can hardly imagine what it was like to study without having access to online dictionaries, encyclopedias and other didactical tools like text treatment programs or simply email accounts or communicators to exchange information.
European Commission has therefore launched a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the use of ICT in schools. One of them is eLearning initiative that seeks to mobilize the educational and cultural communities, as well as the economic and social players in Europe, in order to speed up changes in the education and training systems for Europe's move to a knowledge-based society by promoting digital literacy and organizing virtual campuses.
ICT also plays an important role in EU’s general approach to education, as outlined in the EU2020 strategy. Here four of the seven priorities look at our youngsters and their abilities to compete in the future marketplace: “Youth on the move” initiative deals directly with education and aims to enhance the performance of education systems and to reinforce the international attractiveness of Europe's higher education. The “European platform against poverty” touches the field of education indirectly. It seeks to ensure social and territorial cohesion such that the benefits of growth and jobs are widely shared and people experiencing poverty and social exclusion are enabled to live in dignity and take an active part in society. Similarly, the “agenda for new skills and jobs” which has scope to modernize labor markets by facilitating labor mobility and the development of skills throughout the lifecycle, is intrinsically connected with lifelong learning and ICT skills. Finally, the “digital agenda”, set up to speed up the roll-out of high-speed internet, aims as well to guarantee to everyone the access to the internet and to the indispensable e-skills and education.
Microsoft follows many of the EU’s commitments to the education as we believe good education plays an essential role in shaping tomorrow’s Europe and helping young people access the work market. That’s why we don’t hesitate to invest in this field and have over the years drives different types of initiatives to help students develop their skills. One of our most important initiatives is “Partners in Learning”. This is a global initiative designed to actively increase access to technology and improve its use in learning. Our goal is to help schools gain better access to technology, foster innovative approaches to pedagogy and teacher professional development and provide education leaders with the tools to envision, implement and manage change. DreamSparks is another initiative which provides students with software design and development tools at no charge. The program was originally available for university/college students in Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. but has now been expanded to more than 80 countries and is offered to many high school students all over the world.
The role of ICT in education is one of the issues we would like to discuss at the roundtable discussion we are organizing on the topic of “Are we doing enough to keep Europeans ahead in education?”. This event should have taken place today at the Microsoft Executive Briefing Centre in Brussels, but due to the Volcano cloud that is prohibiting both delegates, speakers and Microsoft staff to fly we have been forced to post phone the event till the autumn.