Vice president for the European Commission for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has called for a greater emphasis on IT training in schools to avoid an IT skills gap.
Speaking at the conference on Technology Supported Learning and Training in Berlin yesterday, Kroes explained that, if allowed to exist, this gap would negatively affect the European economy.
"We need to make digital literacy, digital skills and technology-supported learning central to the public policy agenda. You are nowhere without digital skills in the 21st century," Kroes said.
"In the future, Europe could face a massive ICT skills gap – if we don't have the ICT specialists we need, our economy will suffer. We need to get kids from a very young age learning about IT, exposed to online education and expanding their career horizons," she said.
Kroes also called for an increase in the number of women working in IT, although failed to explain how this change might be effected.
"Women are significantly under-represented in the ICT sector. They are often deterred from it because of outdated attitudes, or because women don't think it's a sector 'for them'. We need to change that," she said.
Kroes explained that technological innovation would be helpful to drive IT up the education agenda, but added that this need not mean spending vast sums on new inventions, but potentially adapting existing tools.
"We shouldn't just focus on researching new gadgets: often the technology is already out there on the market today, it just needs to be adapted and used."
She said that public IT buyers should not shy away from new technology. "By acting as technologically demanding 'first buyers', public procurers can drive innovation from the market that supplies them.
"This is good for our public administrations who buy these tools; good for students and teachers who use them; good for domestic suppliers who can take the lead in a developing, global market," she said.
In order for technology to see more adoption in the classroom, she said that teachers would have to see it as an enabler, rather than a threat. "We have to show that these technologies are not about sidelining educational professionals, and they are not about wasting money on gadgets.
"Rather, they are about empowering and supporting teachers, giving them new teaching techniques. And, as for the money, we need to show it is not a cost, but an investment: an incomparably powerful investment in human capital."
In order for these intiatives to work, she explained that the various interested parties would need to co-operate to own and effect the changes themselves.
She proposed what she termed a "multi-stakeholder platform". Kroes said: "I propose to get everyone together in a common, multi-stakeholder platform. So those making technology can learn the needs of those in education. So educators can learn, support and champion the benefits of new technology. And, overall, so we can mainstream new technology into the European education and training systems."
Kroes illustrated her point by explaining that a similar initiative had worked in the field of elderly care. "In the field of caring for the elderly, we have created a successful European Innovation Partnership: this could in due course prove a useful model for education too."
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