08 May 2020

Accelerating education transformation through technology

Every day the world creates more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. That data has no value without someone to interpret it or use it for innovation. New job occupations have been emerging over the past years as the data economy surges. Many more will follow. 85% of jobs that today’s students will do in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. The future tells us 9 out of 10 jobs will require digital skills. However, 44% of EU’s citizens still do not have even basic digital skills. It is clear why ‘’tackling the skills gap’’ is the one phrase on everyone’s lips.

Europe urgently needs education systems fit for the digital age. This is the only avenue to plug the skills gap in the long-term. The European Commission has successfully set the framework to meet this goal through the Digital Education Action Plan. Its update is an opportunity to commit further to the cause and accelerate education’s digital transformation. DIGITALEUROPE calls on the European Commission, EU Education and Skills Ministers and European Parliament to strongly consider the recommendations below in any effort to update the Plan and upgrade our educational systems:

Technology as an enabler in schools

  • Get children familiar with how technology works at an early stage and relentlessly raise awareness in schools on cyber hygiene and safe internet use
  • Encourage schools to set out minimum Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) standards to truly benefit from technology in education
  • Promote accessibility standards to support public procurement of accessible ICT in schools, such as EN 301 549
  • Deploy EU and national funding to digitally modernise schools to reduce teacher administrative workload and free up time for student engagement

Curriculum for a digital age

  • Develop school curricula that include must-have 21st Century Skills like computational thinking and dynamic communication
  • Prioritising active engagement in learning communities over standard professional development courses will improve a teacher’s understanding of the digital curriculum
  • Reduce gender inequality in ICT jobs by introducing successful female role models into the curriculum

Partnerships with digital actors in the ecosystem

  • Ensure existing EU initiatives such as the EU Code Week, the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition and the European Robotics Week firmly involve technology providers and deployers
  • Simplify the structure of EU funding programmes to widen the pool of participating stakeholders and expand industry-academia partnerships

More than 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last couple of years.4 App Developers, Cloud Specialists and vloggers are just some of the jobs that did not exist in the past 10 years. Yet, today there is not only a huge demand for the skills to fill these roles, but also a huge discrepancy between the number of jobs available and the people to fill them. By the end of 2020, there could be as many as 756,000 unfilled jobs in the European ICT sector.

DIGITALEUROPE strongly supports the Digital Education Action Plan, where the European Commission recognised that new technologies drive education innovation, equity and efficiency. The Action Plan was articulated around the important goals of better use of digital technology for teaching and learning, digital competences and skills for the digital transformation of education, and data analysis for overall education systems’ performance.6 We believe the update to the Action Plan gives a tremendous opportunity to double down on Europe’s leadership commitment to make education, vocational training and life-long learning programmes fit for the digital age.

The European Commission, Member States and European Parliament must turn our ambitions for future-proof schools into reality. This will require driving software and hardware use in education with solid investments and standard-lifting policies in areas like accessibility. It will also mean accelerating curriculum modernisation and getting curriculum implementation right. It will be important to engage industry, which is at the centre of much of digital technology development and deployment, to be part in EU-wide initiatives as well as academic and vocational ones.

Critically, governmental efforts should embrace higher education and existing workforce too. Building digital acumen and skills in professional sectors such as healthcare and manufacturing is key to accelerate technology uptake and contribute to a trustworthy digital ecosystem.

Policy-makers must readily craft ambitious re-skilling programmes for today’s workforce, while preparing tomorrow’s talent with digital-ready university curricula.

If we aim to accelerate the digitalisation of hospitals, for example, healthcare professionals must have data science skills to integrate technology in their daily work. This will also build trust in the use of digital solutions, particularly among patients.

Similarly, in manufacturing, new production techniques and cyber-physical production systems are reshaping the industry. If companies aim to remain competitive, they must adapt and leverage technology. All this hinges on workforce know-how and competences, which will need to adapt to an unprecedent extent.

We can’t navigate these transformational changes without key investments to adjust training systems.

These should be coupled with measures that promote and standardise innovative ways of delivering professional education in various sectors, more focused on practice, knowledge transfer and use of new educational tools (e.g. simulators, virtual reality, personalised education software). Defining gaps and working with multiple stakeholders (e.g. science community, student groups, universities) would help, just as building digital skills exchange platforms among universities. Clearly, funding streams like the Digital Europe Programme, Erasmus+ and the European Social Fund will need to play a big role on workforce upskilling and be strongly focused on digital skills in professional contexts, all while ensuring inclusiveness and cohesion across EU regions.

In this paper, we have defined the focus areas of basic and advanced skills, accessibility, teaching, student well-being and data as instrumental to the education system to deliver the right skills for the digital age. Below, we articulate each of them in detail and provide recommendations to policy-makers on the way forward.

Basic digital skills

Today’s understanding of literacy firmly includes digital skills and media competences. However, despite their relevance, these competencies are far from common. Only 13% of EU youngsters aged 16-24 wrote a computer programme in 2016.

For a start, authorities should incentivise the use of digital equipment in classrooms and the instructional practice. Short illustrative videos are a valid alternative to reading books or listening to a teacher. Experienced educators must get children familiar with how technology works at an early stage, teach them how to use the internet and smart devices safely, and improve connectivity to the internet. EU schools often rely on 1 single connection or subscription to serve all students. About one fifth of them do not have reliable broadband connections.

Governments should also make education a key driver for promoting gender equality. Typically, girls do as well as or outperform boys in STEM classwork, but their interest in STEM subjects starts waning by the age of 15. This later translates into women holding less than two in ten ICT specialists’ jobs in Europe. To boost these numbers, educators should combine learning technology with female role models. An education system that is focused on diversity will help to ensure less biased and more inclusive future technology solutions.

Indeed, with 44% of Europeans aged 16-74 lacking basic digital skills, governments’ attention should not limit to children.10 A few actions could be done already in the short-term to bring down this figure. First, the EU should bolster the role of the European network of Public Employment Services in identifying and sharing the best unemployment-tackling practices. Second, no vocational training or adult learning system is modern today without offering prospective students ICT curricula. Digital technology must always be present in the teaching offer. Third, the European Commission should expand initiatives like the EU Code Week, the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition and the European Robotics Week. They help to draw attention to in-demand competences like programming and computational thinking. Fourth, the structure for applying to EU funding must be simplified to appeal to a wider audience of stakeholders and generate potential new partnerships such as those between industry and academia.

Advanced digital skills

Basic digital skills are a must for everyone to be an active citizen of society. However, being employable in the era of digital transformation requires going beyond that. Educators should craft policies that encourage every learner to develop a core set of skills that will help in career development. DIGITALEUROPE identifies a set of must-have 21st century skills for individuals to thrive in the workplace:

Computational thinking combined with soft skills: coding is a basic literacy in our digital age. But developing a successful app does end with great coding skills. As students grow, it is essential to combine it with soft competences such as problems solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and entrepreneurship abilities. Artificial intelligence and analytics are taking off across the world. Students must acquire vital skills in understanding algorithms and data science, vital in the fourth industrial revolution.

Multifaceted Collaboration: in today’s global society, students need to know how to use a full set of available technology tools to connect with others, build relationships, share responsibility, and take leadership.

Dynamic Communication: the possibilities for communicating today continue to grow. Students who know how to communicate using a wide range of media will be able to speak to a wider and more diverse audience and tailor their communication approaches according to the specific circumstance.

Digital Agility: it is about picking the right technology based on the goal to achieve. This requires students to regularly evaluate new tools and determine whether they will help them more.

Media Literacy: technology allows to access a wide range of new formats of information, from video to podcasts and apps. Students also need to be able to differentiate good quality from bad and dig into the messaging behind. Moreover, they need to be able to use that learning to create their own content.

Global Citizenship: technology gives a greater understanding of different cultures by connects classrooms and learners across the world. Students should be good citizens in the way they represent themselves, communicate and act in the world and protect their information.

Creativity: ever-more sophisticated technology solutions are opening up huge opportunities for creativity. Students should have the potential to contribute to the world and create content that will make a difference.

Educators must promote these 21st century skills in all learning settings, including lifelong learning programmes, and combine them with in-demand technical competences such as computer programming, coding, and app development. Whenever possible, governments across the EU should introduce certifications as part of dual accreditation pathways for both academic and vocational skills at the secondary level. The European Commission should play its role by encouraging alternatives to traditional learning paths. Short-term programmes to upskill or reskill individuals can provide digital-oriented, job-ready skills. lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling programmes can provide job-ready skills.


In education, access means bringing learning resources to geographically or economically isolated learners, and offering affordable learning solutions like MOOCs to vast audiences. It also means supporting the way people learn through their own styles. Where one student might learn a concept by reading a chapter of a textbook, another might learn by watching a video, playing a game or utilising an app simulation.

Importantly, accessibility is also needed to ensure students with special needs are on an equal footing to their peers. In England, 14.4% of students11 have special educational needs. Technology is a formidable tool to help them.

Technology provides for multimodal learning—visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), kinaesthetic (moving), and tactile (touching). Videos with captions support foreign language learners. Mixed-reality and gamification lead to active student engagement. Embodied learning enables students to immerse themselves in an experiential learning context, which increases mastery and retention.12

Technology provides accessibility features not just for students with different abilities, but for all learners (and adults, too). For example, mobile phone features can aid someone who is blind to use a piece of technology, can facilitate the learning for someone through a second language, or change the lives of students who struggle with reading.

From a compliance standpoint, public procurement markets tend to guarantee high levels of accessibility. EU standard EN 301 549,13 for instance, addresses challenges preventing people with disabilities from accessing ICT in the public sector. However, few head teachers and others responsible for technology procurement are aware of such standards, despite the availability of e.g. G3ICT Guide for Procurement of Inclusive Technologies.14 To drive accessibility in education, governments across the EU must better promote their existence to educational authorities.

Online safety, data privacy & security and environmental consciousness

As one out of three internet users world-wide is a child,15 online safety is key. All primary schools across Europe should teach it. Alongside it, educators must be fully aware of the importance of security in student work and personal information. Europe’s education institutions should guarantee all their products have in-built cybersecurity and privacy features and controls. Any information gathered from students should only be used for education purposes. It should not be sold, shared with third parties to use for marketing or advertising, or used to build student profiles based on their email use or web browsing.

Authorities should keep high on their agenda cyber hygiene school education policies. It is fundamental to teach students and teachers about simple, nontechnical, everyday habits to improve cybersecurity. These include choosing complex, unique passphrases; not reusing the same passphrases across multiple accounts; thinking critically about which links to click, especially in an e-mail (which could be phishing); being smart about connecting to potentially insecure wireless/WiFi networks, particularly when in public; and thinking carefully about whether to provide personal information to websites.

Embedding all this into modernised, digital-oriented school curricula is also a tenet for the digital citizenship skills that youngsters need to master. To strengthen effective cyber hygiene education in schools, policies must embrace parents to help reinforce these skills with their children.

In addition, access to devices for learning remains unequal. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is often unmanaged, with some students using brand new equipment while others using older devices, unable to receive the latest security patches or run the latest applications for learning. Schools need to be mindful of setting clearer requirements in BYOD scenarios. For those schools looking to a standardised procurement model, they also need to be aware of what makes a device appropriate for education. A learner device typically needs to have rugged protection, an appropriate screen size, be capable of use with a keyboard, inking/pencil and touch, and be highly mobile to facilitate deeper learning and engagement. Most systems that have deployed simple, low cost tablets have been dogged by breakage, theft and low usage as they are not appropriate to learning scenarios.

Finally, educators should also be mindful about the increasing importance of environmental consciousness. There are greater volumes of technology hardware and data circulating today than just a few years ago. Schools should educate students about the environmental benefits of technology as well as the environmental impact of technology equipment and data usage.

The role of teachers

Teacher development

Teachers are crucial to enable digital-native students to transfer their knowledge into learning and working.

However, many of them struggle today with curriculum implementation as a result of scarce training. Authorities need to put more emphasis on oft-overlooked aspects like teacher recruitment, retention and development. Digital skills must be an integral part of teachers’ initial training and their introduction to the profession. To support that, the European Commission should drive efforts for a more common understanding of digital skills based on the European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators. It is also fundamental to involve in-service teachers in capacity-building activities and technology development plans of school authorities.

Most of all, fast-evolving digital technology urges us to move away from an emphasis on traditional teacher professional development. Research shows active teacher engagement in professional learning communities, grounded on aspects like teacher collaboration, involvement in decision-making and joint responsibility for teaching outcomes, helps in using technology in teaching.16 OECD PISA tests’ results confirm it. Many high-performing countries are associated with a strong focus on in-service workshops for specific groups of teachers, which cater in turn for better peer-learning opportunities.17 Active teacher engagement in professional learning communities is fundamental and the EU should promote it to Member States as much as possible.

Teacher Workload

Teachers’ workload is on the rise in Europe due to factors like greater demand for back office administrative tasks. This is exerting a negative impact on teacher retention, hiring of experienced educators and indeed students’ learning outcomes. Technology can play a role in reducing teacher administrative workload in tasks like planning lessons and writing assessments and marking, thereby increasing time spent on teacher-student interactions.

EU institutions and national governments should invest in campaigns to raise awareness of technology’s benefits to shed the administrative workload of teachers. Digital tools can serve as a home base for teachers and students by collecting assignments and student work in a single space. They also facilitate visual and audio feedback and, thanks to data, offer insights into student progress. Teachers can use data to understand better how students are doing and thus personalise instructions based on needs. Studies showed that regularly using technology in class projects reduced by 4.6 hours the weekly workload of teachers, in comparison to occasionally using it.18

Data-Driven Decision Making for social well-being

Teachers and institutions have been using data about students to inform their instructional decision making and intervention strategies for years. It’s nothing new. But as data growth transforms the world, traditional methods of instructional decisions are changing too. Data collection and analysis give incredible opportunities for teaching and learning assessment. Emerging applications of data and AI are showing promise in supporting student decisions about learning behaviour, e.g. using student virtual assistants to coach students on their learning behaviours during homework time.

Data collection also allows institutions to allocate resources more effectively: IoT sensors and other tools can give insight into how often resources are used and offer predictive analytics supporting decision making. Data can also play a valuable role in boosting early warning systems to identify students at risk of dropping out or requiring the intervention of a social worker.

It is important Europe’s education systems properly recognised the value of technology in promoting student wellbeing. The European Commission should support them by mapping national and international practices to make learning more relevant, creative, collaborative and challenging.

People are rightfully concerned about technology-induced phenomena like cyber- bullying. But technology first and foremost helps students achieve academically and reduces their frustration by improving their ability to learn, communicate their learning, and express themselves in ways aligned with their learning styles and preferences. Digital tools and subjects like coding games and activities can bring students and classrooms closer together.

Built-in controls for screen time provide for a balanced set of interactions with technology and in traditional social environments. Plus, it provides the ability to control internet access, so to align a student’s growing understanding of digital citizenship with its behaviour in the virtual world.

Annex available in the pdf version. 

For more information please contact:
Ray Pinto
Senior Director for Digital Transformation Policy
Vincenzo Renda
Director for Single Market & Digital Competitiveness
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