On March 7 2023 Neth-ER and Nuffic hosted an event on the digital transition in European education. During the session, the panelists discussed how to foster equality in increasingly digitalised education systems and talked about different ways to implement a human factor in such a system. All speakers emphasized the importance of digital skills and underscored a bottom-up approach to identifying the wants and needs of both students and teachers.

From the Ground Up: Redesigning Education to Meet the Needs of Today's Learners

Digitalising European education: paving the way for an inclusive system

On 7 march 2023, Neth-ER and Nuffic organised an event on the digital transition in European education systems. In the two panel sessions different speakers were invited to share their knowledge about the digital transition. The overall message of the session highlighted the importance of a human-centered approach to digitalising our education systems. The two panel sessions were led by Lem van Eupen, director of Erasmus+ in the Netherlands and member of Nuffic’s Management Team. During the first panel session van Eupen discussed the different opportunities and challenges on how to foster equality in education together with the panelists. The second session delved deeper into the implementation of the social dimension of the digitalisation of education.

Digital skills: a human approach

Teaching digital skills in schools should be compulsory and given the same importance as mathematics or English. By doing so, the level of digital illiteracy among students can be reduced, leading to increased access to education and equal opportunities. This was highlighted by Head of Unit of the digital education unit of the European Commission Georgi Dimitrov. This more coherent, holistic, and integrated approach is reflected in the Digital Education Action Plan and is needed to enhance digital skills while also “increasing transparency to compete with technological developments in the US and China”. Marcus Specht, professor of digital education at Leiden University and the TU Delft echoed this sentiment and further emphasized the need to embrace technologies in education. He acknowledges the risks of AI in education but believes that human skills are key to fully embracing the technologies. Human skill enables us to work effectively with technology. Herman van der Plas, policy officer of Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science, underscored the importance of the inherent integration of digitisation in high-quality education and therefore welcomes the EU guidelines on AI and data usage in teaching and learning that help educators understand the potential  applications of AI and data usage can have. In addition, the AI Act proposed by the Commission has been welcomed by Dutch educational institutions, because it provides clarity for the usage of AI in education.

How a bottom-up approach can transform education

The speakers thus agreed digital skills in high quality education are essential to foster equal opportunities in a digital education system. The next question raised was how the human factor can be implemented in European education systems. Willeke van der Werf, a researcher from Erasmus+, advocated for a bottom-up approach that involves teachers in the development of digital education policies and guidelines. Involving teachers in developing policies and guidelines, in turn, is essential to bridge the gap between teachers and their daily practice. Time is needed to implement digital skills in education, and adequate program guidance is critical. It is not about who gets there first, but about how well digitalisation is implemented in education. In the long run, this will lead to better integration of digital skills into society.

How digital skills can be integrated in a bottom-up approach

The second panel session delved deeper into how these digital skills can be implemented in practice. Snezhina Petrova, representative from the European Education and Culture executive agency, highlighted the significance of Erasmus+ and teacher academies in their implementation. Marieke Slootman, social scientist at the VU Amsterdam and InHolland, on the other hand, stressed that identifying the opportunities and risks of digital education should be taken into account in making guidelines. This offers a good basis to fully embrace technologies and opens up access to equal chances in education.

Identifying the wants and needs of students and teachers

The panel session ended with a discussion about the needs of both students and teachers. Some factors that all speakers deemed critical are the need for time to implement digital skills and tools, while we also need to get more “comfortable with discomfort”. With this, Marcel Kuiten, head of the international office of ‘Rijn Ijssel’ and ambassador of eTwinning in Dutch VET education, states that is important to increase space for technological changes and so adequately identify what works in our education systems. Furthermore, Kuiten discussed the potential benefits of online tools in high quality education. More specifically, he highlighted the advantages of online mobility programs in identifying the Intents and needs of both students and teachers, citing eTwinning and online Erasmus+ programs as an example of successful implementation of digital tools. Finally, Barend Last, education expert in blended learning, highlighted “technology is a means to an end” that can enhance physical education. He argued policymakers should take into account the opinions and perspectives of students by seeing them as “partners rather than mere consumers of education”. This creates a coherent program in which digital elements truly enhance the needs of both students and teachers.

Mede geschreven door Lieve Dessing.