2.2.4 European Union

School connectivity initiatives in the European Union (EU) precede those at the international level. This is not surprising, given that the EU is a developed region and connectivity in some schools has been available since the launch of the Internet.

Nevertheless, the EU has felt it to be important to reiterate its commitment to the information society. So, the European Commission (EC) launched the eEurope initiative in 2000 with the aim of accelerating Europe's transition towards a knowledge-based economy and to realize the potential benefits of higher growth, more jobs and better access for all citizens to online services. The Europe Action Plan was published, establishing a priority for

Member States [to] ensure that all schools in the Union have access to the Internet and multimedia resources by the end of 2001.44

This goal was primarily aimed at a few Member States that had been lagging behind in school connectivity. By March 2002, school connectivity in the EU rose 4 per cent over the preceding year, to 93 per cent (See Figure 2-2).

Figure 2-2: Internet in schools (% of schools connected by internet access type and type of locality), European Union

Percent of schools connected by internet access type and type of locality in EU

An EU-wide Survey, published by the European Commission in September 2006, showed that by that year, 96 per cent of all schools in Europe had internet access, and 67 per cent already had a broadband connection. Broadband take-up still varied widely in Europe, however, from about 90 per cent of schools in Scandinavian countries (and in the Netherlands, Estonia and Malta) to less than 35 per cent in Greece, Poland, Cyprus, and Lithuania. The study found no major differences in internet connectivity between schools in less densely populated areas and those in urban areas. The study also showed that broadband connectivity in schools tended to follow national broadband penetration rates, with the exception of Estonia, Malta, Slovenia and Spain, where the penetration of broadband in schools was much higher than the overall level achieved in these countries.45

The eEurope 2002 Action Plan focused on exploiting the advantages offered by the Internet and increasing connectivity. The achievements of that plan were summarized in a Final Report, which was presented by the European Commission in February 2003.44

eEurope 2002 was very successful in extending Internet connectivity, but effective usage of the Internet was not developing as fast as connectivity. Subsequent policy attention shifted to supporting the use of ICTs through an increased availability of high-quality infrastructure, as well as availability of attractive services and applications and the encouragement of organizationalchange.

The eEurope 2005 Action Plan, for example, focused on exploiting broadband technologies to deliver online services in both the public and private sectors46 eEurope 2005 also promoted high-speed (broadband) connectivity to stimulate the use of the Internet for more developed applications and services. Finally, the 2005 plan also attempted to make the benefits of the Information Society available to the socially excluded and people with special needs.

The eEurope initiative concluded at the end of 2005 but was followed by the i2010 initiative.47 Withinthat context, the European Commission promotes "eAccessibility," which is aimed at ensuring that people with disabilities and elderly people can access ICTs on an equal basis with others.

The year 2010 also saw the adoption of the Digital Agenda for Europe and the Europe 2020 Strategy. The 2020 Strategy identifies three key drivers for growth, to be implemented through concrete actions at EU and national levels: (1) smart growth (fostering knowledge, innovation, education and digital society), (2) sustainable growth (making production more resource-efficient while boosting competitiveness) and (3) inclusive growth (raising participation in the labour market, the acquisition of skills and the fight against poverty).48

Smart growth is defined as improving the EU's performance in:

  • Education (encouraging people to learn, study and update their skills);
  • Research/innovation (creating new products/services that generate growth and jobs and help address social challenges); and
  • Digital society (using information and communication technologies).49

The Digital Agenda for Europespecifically addresses the use of technology in education, urging, for example, that e-learning be addressed in national policies on modernizing education and training, including curricula, assessment of learning outcomes and professional development of teachers and trainers.50

The EU sought to recognize that e-learning enables people to acquire skills anywhere, anytime. Meanwhile, ICTs empower teachers to adopt new practices, to tailor interventions on the basis of personal learning needs and to individualize assessment. ICTs also cater to individuals needing self-regulated and informal learning, and they accommodate different learning styles and innovative, collaborative learning practices. ICTs also support more efficient workforce training on a global scale, improving delivery, reducing training costs and time-to-competencies.50

44 http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/2002/documents/archiv_eEurope2002/actionplan_en.pdf

45 Commission Survey : “Benchmarking Access and Use of ICT in European Schools 2006,” available at: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/i2010/docs/studies/final_report_3.pdf

46 Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - eEurope 2005: An information society for all - An Action Plan to be presented in view of the Sevilla European Council, 21/22 June 2002, (COM 2002 (263) Final), available at: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/2002/news_library/documents/eeurope2005/eeurope2005_en.pdf
47 European Union i2010 initiative, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/i2010/index_en.htm

48 Europe 2020 initiative, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/europe-2020-in-a-nutshell/flagship-initiatives/index_en.htm

49 http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/europe-2020-in-a-nutshell/priorities/smart-growth/index_en.htm

50 Digital Agenda for Europe, Action 68: Member States to mainstream e-learning in national policies, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/fiche-dae.cfm?action_id=226&pillar_id=48&action=Action%2068%3A%20Member%20States%20to%20mainstream%20eLearning%20in%20national%20policies

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