Local authorities have a key role to play in implementing the EU Digital Education Action Plan

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we learn, work and spend our free time. Of all the changes that the pandemic brings to society, moving education to the virtual environment has the deepest implications. Children and youth are affected at a decisive age in their upbringing, and as such, the digital transformation of education can profoundly affect the future of our societies.

In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, education and training in the EU are the responsibility of Member States. However, it is clear that the Union must take on the support of national education systems. At present, this objective can be fulfilled through the Erasmus+ instrument, but also through structural funds. The EU is involved in improving the European Education Area, which encourages mobility of pupils and students and promotes common European values. Concrete issues such as the mutual recognition of diplomas and qualifications are also addressed. It is easy to understand that education and professional training are at the heart of the EU’s socio-economic agenda.

Between June and September 2020, the European Commission organized an open public consultation on the new action plan for digital education for the 2021-2027 period. This public consultation concluded that almost 60% of respondents did not use distance- and online learning before the coronavirus crisis; 95% consider that the COVID-19 crisis marks a point of no return for how technology is used in education and training. Moreover, over 60% of respondents believe that they have improved their digital skills during the crisis and more than 50% of them want to pursue further improvement. Consulted participants also pointed out that online learning resources and content need to be more relevant, interactive and easier to use.

As a concrete manifestation of the European Education Area, the Digital Education Action Plan for 2021-2027 aims to achieve high-quality online education that is inclusive and accessible to all Europeans. The new plan was built around two strategic priorities: developing a high-performance digital education ecosystem and improving digital skills and digital transformation skills.

The development of a digital education ecosystem requires digital infrastructure, connectivity and equipment; effective planning and development of digital capacity, including up-to-date organizational capacity; competent and confident tech-savvy teachers and training staff; high-quality learning content and easy-to-use tools and secure platforms that respect privacy and ethical standards.

Improving digital skills and digital transformation skills requires the acquiring of basic digital skills and competences from an early age: digital literacy, including by combating disinformation; computer education, which means a good knowledge and understanding of data-intensive technologies as well as artificial intelligence; advanced digital skills that produce more digital specialists and also ensures that young girls and women are equally represented in digital studies and careers.

All these EU goals related to digital education will only be achieved if European regions are actively involved in the transformation process. The region, or county in the case of Romania, must be in direct interaction with the citizens. In our country, the local public administration is the one responsible for the endowment and the equipment of the schools, so implicitly, the endowment programs in the digital field must be implemented together with the local public authorities. Only through good cooperation between the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions, will we be able to make progress and achieve the goals of digital education and overall, of the digital transition in Europe.

This was the perspective presented by MEP Iuliu Winkler during the workshop Challenges of Digital Education in the context of Covid-19  organized by Harghita County Council within 18th European Week of Cities and Regions.