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Speech by Commissioner Gabriel at the 3rd Education Summit

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op vrijdag 11 december 2020.

Dear President von der Leyen, dear Vice-President Schinas,

Thank you for your inspiring words. Your presence at the Summit is a clear sign of the importance this Commission attaches to its young people and to the whole education community.

Dear Ministers, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to host the third European Education Summit today at such a pivotal moment.

The past eight months have been unlike any, no sector of our economies and societies has been spared by the pandemic, but some had to bear greater consequences.

Education is one of these. 100 million people across the EU have been affected.

All levels of our education systems, from nurseries to universities, had to face enormous challenges. This crisis has shown their strengths, but also weaknesses, and has taught us important lessons.

The first is that large disparities persist across countries and within countries, when it comes to digital infrastructure. Many schools had to deal with a lack of connectivity and appropriate digital devices for distance and online learning. But, this was not the case for other schools, where the transition to online education was smoother. We cannot afford to see deepening inequalities. We need to bridge this gap in order to provide quality education to all.

The second lesson concerns the pressing need to improve digital education, to equip pupils and teachers with the skills they need. The 2020 Education and Training Monitor, which indicates, for instance, that teachers were not adequately prepared to use digital technologies in the classroom before the crisis, confirm this. We need a strategic and long-term approach to digital education and training.

The third lesson is in fact something we already knew: together we are stronger. This crisis has once again brought out the amazing spirit of our education community and has made us aware of the value of joint efforts. In the past months, Member States and education institutions have cooperated across Europe to exchange best practices and share solutions. This cooperation has been and will remain crucial for the development of an inclusive and effective digital education in Europe.

The crisis is, unfortunately, not over yet. Schools and universities in many EU countries are currently dealing with a second wave of closures and distance learning.

So let me share with you what are the concrete steps we are taking to ensure that our education and training systems are better equipped to address this and other global challenges of our time?

Two months ago, the Commission presented an education package, covering two flagship initiatives that will help Member States make their education and training systems more inclusive, green and digital, and will guide our action for the years to come.

First, the Communication on Achieving the European Education Area by 2025. With this initiative, we build on the work we have done so far, but we also propose new and ambitious measures to improve the quality, inclusiveness, as well as digital and green dimension of Member States' education systems.

The second initiative is the Digital Education Action Plan, which has two long-term strategic priorities:

  • fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem; and
  • enhancing digital competences for the digital transformation.

Today, we come together to discuss how specifically we can deliver on the objectives of this Education package.

To leave up to the expectations of European citizens, we must see education as a strategic investment in Europe's future. This comes with the need for increased attention to education and skills development, and stronger cooperation at EU level to exchange best practice.

Today, I invite you to share your ideas. Tell us what your plans are and how you think they will contribute to building the European Education Area and to making the EU's education and training systems truly fit for the digital age.

This Education Summit is also about our immediate future. It is about how we join forces to ensure that young people get the best education despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

I would like to share with you the questions that I think are important to keep in mind during the discussions that we will have later:

  • How to make the most of the lessons learned?
  • What is the main “takeaway” from the “Covid-19 experience”?
  • How can we use the potential of the virtual space in education?

The digital space allows for many different forms of cooperation. I will give you the example of four initiatives where the digital transformation, coupled with effective cooperation at EU level, is opening real opportunities:

  • First, the European University alliances are good examples of how cooperation - including in the digital space - can create synergies. We will discuss how they can test and inspire further cooperation across knowledge communities in Europe and beyond, contributing to a new transformation agenda for higher education;
  • Secondly, pedagogical practices are also changing and networks are key to helping teachers update their competences. For that purpose, we plan to launch 25 Erasmus Teacher Academies, supported by the new Erasmus programme;
  • Thirdly, the Commission will step up cooperation and exchange in the field of digital education at EU level. The new European Digital Education Hub will link national and regional digital education initiatives and foster collaboration across sectors and borders. It will serve as a focal point for digital education at European level;
  • Last, but not least, I am very pleased to present to you the Education for Climate Coalition It will mobilize the education community through actions in support of climate neutrality and sustainable development. We are in the very first phase of its set-up, but I wish to take this opportunity to call on all of you to spread the word and get involved over the next months.
  • We will rally expertise and networks in education across the EU to support innovative solutions with pupils and students. I want this Coalition to help make the leap of faith from understanding climate change to acting on it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our ability to adapt quickly and to cooperate in the virtual space has brought us through the year 2020.

With this in mind, I am looking forward to our discussions and new insights through different perspectives.

For today's Education Summit, we gathered our key and highly valued stakeholders. Without you, without your commitment, the European Education Area cannot become a reality. The same applies to the ambitious goals of the Digital Education Action Plan.

These flagship initiatives are about an opportunity for all and an opportunity for Europe to grow stronger and more prosperous through education.

I would like to thank everyone for being here and wish you a fruitful discussion.

Thank you.

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