“It is surprising that many 15 year-olds, who belong to the generation of ‘digital natives’ and who have grown up ‘wired’, do not have the skills to use ICT in a critical and creative way”, as stated by Androulla Vassiliou, the European commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. In Europe a shortage of e-skilled professionals already exists and most young people do not have the right e-skills. One of the reasons for this is because schools are often unprepared to meet the digital challenge. ICT is developing rapidly and e-skills need to be updated constantly. Education has a unique position to promote, motivate and to give young people the e-skills, which they will need in the future. In this editorial an in-depth sight will be given into the importance of promoting e-skills in education, in order to respond to the growing need of ICT skilled people. As this editorial shows, most schools do not use and do not see the benefits of new technologies to modernise learning and teaching practices, despite the increased resources allocated to this field. This view must be altered: people with the right e-skills are much needed. And schools have a role to play.
E-skills and digital competences in education
Digital competences have been identified by the European Commission as one of the key competences that all European citizens should acquire through education and training. In this way they can be able to address the needs of society and the economy. However, first they need to know, and especially young people need to know, how to use these new technologies in a critical, creative and collaborative way. This all starts at the educational level. Educational systems should be encouraged to use new technologies in teaching and learning and they should be able to respond to technological developments. Education and training systems have not kept up with the demand for e-skills, which will lead and already leads to a shortage of ICT scientists, professionals and advanced users in Europe. Most schools do not know how to implement ICT into their curricula. Still, it is important that schools will see the benefits of ICT and modernise their teaching and learning practices. Schools should provide their pupils with the necessary competences and skills and specifically digital competences and e-skills. Young people should be encouraged to use ICT not only for their own needs, but to train in ICT in view of finding a job.
Teachers and ICT
When one wants to develop ICT within schools, it all starts with the ICT competences of the teachers. Many schools, and especially teachers, do not know how to make the best use of ICT and they are not trained in how to teach and use ICT. Most teachers use ICT in the classroom mainly as a way to teach computer literacy. ICT is still not always an integral part of lessons, the curricula and/or the pedagogy. And, most of the teachers, who use ICT in their lessons, mainly use it to search for existing information and knowledge, rather than as part of some new and transformative way to teach and to learn. Thus, it can be said that teachers need to learn how to make the best use of ICT, to implement this into their lessons and to give their pupils the digital competences and e-skills, which are important for them. The use of ICT in education can lead to a higher quality than traditional methods of learning. Next to that, when schools use ICT, it will reduce some of their costs and improve the efficiency of their administration.
E-skills enhances the employability of young people
It is often said that e-skills enhances the employability of young people. However, nowadays most young people are ‘digital natives’, but they are not ‘digital competent’. According to Neelie Kroes, European commissioner for the Digital Agenda, the demand for ICT professionals worldwide continues to grow even while other jobs disappear. It is even expected that Europe will have a shortage of 300,000 to 700,000 experts in the ICT sector by 2015 and that 90% of all jobs, across different sectors, will require the use of digital expertise. Yet, in Europe, the number of young people choosing a career in ICT is falling. Also the number of ICT graduates has decreased since 2003. The main cause young people do not choose a career in ICT is because of the slow uptake of ICT-related courses and the negative or nerdy image of ICT or ICT related studies. Nevertheless, almost all jobs require nowadays a certain level of ICT skills. This is also the reason why having the right e-skills is so important and can directly improve the employability of a jobseeker.
EU’s actions to promote digital competences
The European Union has introduced several initiatives in order to improve and promote the digital competences and e-skills of people. These initiatives have started in several Member States in response to the growing shortages of ICT practitioners. Some of these efforts, which underline the importance of skills, are the following; in 2007 the European Commission adopted a communication on ‘e-Skills for the 21st Century: Fostering Competitiveness Growth and Jobs’, in 2010 the EC adopted a communication on a ‘Digital agenda for Europe’, which is at the same time one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy, and in 2010 the EC also adopted a communication on the ‘Agenda for new skills and jobs’, where one of its four key priorities focusses on a more skilled workforce, including the ICT skills mismatch. Next to that, there are also some other initiatives to promote ICT, such as e-twinning, creative classrooms and the opening up of ICT schools. For example, in the Netherlands an initiative exist to open-up a Steve Jobs School, where students are taught with iPads. The plan, which is called ‘Education for a New Era’, is designed to help students learn the skills and especially e-skills, which are needed nowadays and to use all the available means in the classroom. Thus, instead of using textbooks, all books, learning materials and assessment can be accesses digitally and online via apps. However, will these kind of initiatives help to respond to the shortages of ICT practitioners in the future?
The world is becoming more and more digital every day. With the forecasts of growing shortages of ICT practitioners in all sectors, the European Union already has taken some actions. Most of these actions and initiatives should improve and promote people’s digital competences and e-skills. However, these actions and initiatives will only be effective when they are followed up continuously, in order to ensure effective impacts and improvements. Next to that, participation of the Member States is also essential to guarantee the success of these initiatives and to respond to the growing need of ICT skilled people. Especially, the educational sector has an important role in this process and cannot ignore the future signs. Schools have to respond to this growing importance of ICT and e-skills and they need to promote this into their schools. In particular, teachers need to be trained in ICT, in order to implement ICT and e-skills in their curricula and to improve the digital competences of pupils and students. Thus, it is essential to educate European citizens to use ICT and digital media and in this way attract people to ICT education and make their career in the ICT professions. The supply of ICT practitioners and e-skills are necessary for innovation and growth in the European Union. If the EU wants to face the competition with the United States, Japan, India and China, the EU needs to deliver more highly e-skilled professionals of its own. Thus, ICT needs to be increased and upgraded constantly in the EU, in order to keep up with the global competition and to create a digital future for Europe.
by Charlotte Wever
Report: E-skills for the 21st century
Website: Digital Agenda for Europe
Website: E-skills week 2012
Article: eSkills Week: Androulla Vassiliou
Neth-ER article: Make Europeans aware of the importance of e-skills!
Article: Improving digital skills through education – changing the way we learn and teach