Europe : a common place for 75 million young people

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Dr Dalia Grybauskaite

Member of the European Commission

Europe : a common place for 75 million young people"

Annual Conference of the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU)

Vilnius, 5 July 2004

It is a great pleasure for me to participate in your conference in Vilnius.

As the only European association of school students, you are a key stakeholder for the implementation of educational policies in Europe.

Your aims include promoting greater solidarity, co-operation and better understanding between young people, and improving the quality and accessibility of education and democracy in education in Europe.

These are important objectives. And they are shared by the Europe’s leaders.

At the Lisbon summit in March 2000, the Heads of State and Government agreed to look at the future objectives of Europe’s education systems as part of the “Lisbon strategy”. This set the ambitious objective of making the European Union “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world” by 2010”.

In the field of education they highlighted three strategic objectives:

  • increasing the quality and effectiveness of education and training systems

  • facilitating access to these systems, and

  • opening them up to the wider world.

Intensive work is now underway to implement these objectives. I encourage you to maintain and strengthen your regular contacts with the European Commission and play an active role in the implementation of policies in education and youth across Europe.

Taking into account the topics of your conference, I will now focus on two specific issues: Distance education and European Youth Policy.

Distance education

The promotion of distance education has been one of the six general aims for Community action in the field of education and training since 1992.

While the main focus of this work been the higher education sector, it has also involved institutions like the French CNED (Centre National d’Education à Distance) which has built its technical know-how in working with distance education students attending primary and secondary education.

Over the past 10 years, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has become one of the key issues when dealing with the development of distance education in Europe.

In 1995, a specific action to promote Open and Distance Learning (ODL) was launched in the SOCRATES programme. This involved more that 1000 organisations between 1995 and 1999, and school education was also addressed.

Then, from 1998, the scope of European actions was gradually enlarged to address “Educational multimedia”, covering the full scope of technology and the integration of Information and Communication Technologies in teaching and learning at large.

Joint actions involving education, training and research programmes were set up. They addressed the “schools of tomorrow” as well as “flexible universities”. They look at the common challenges raised by the use of technology within the school system, and not just for distance education.

Since 2001, a new terminology has been used: “eLearning”. eLearning is the educational strand of the eEurope initiative, which promotes the setting up of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructures in all sectors. eLearning focuses on the specific infrastructures required for education and the use of ICTs for new learner-centred approaches to teaching and learning.

During this period, the integration of ICT and Distance Learning Technologies in all sectors of the education system means that the emphasis given to Distance Education as a ‘distinct’ sector has gradually diminished.

However, key associations like the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) have grown alongside European actions. EADTU’s members represent 19 European countries and collectively provide Distance Education programmes to over 900.000 students.

This networking is crucial for ensuring a good transfer of experience on the use of ICT in distance education, and I would encourage you to collaborate with such associations in order to build on this progress.

I would now like to explain the two main Community programmes dealing with the promotion of Distance Education in Europe: the Minerva action and the eLearning programme.

The Socrates-Minerva Action

Within the Socrates II programme (2000–2006), Minerva is the specific action for Open and Distance Learning and the promotion of Information and Communication Technologies in Education.

Minerva funds transnational cooperation projects with three general aims:

  • to promote and assess the use of Information and Communication Technologies in Education and in Open and Distance Learning;

  • to establish a dialogue on these issues at European level, with a view to formulating policies and strategies, and

  • to support the implementation of Information and Communication Technologies in Education in accordance with the priorities established at European level.

    Around 30 new projects are selected every year, covering a wide range of issues and involving different kinds of actors. These deal with higher education, with school education and with non-formal learning, and the diversity of topics shows the relevance of this action for all kinds of subject matters and learners. Many projects are action-research projects, where a new pedagogical method will be tested with learners in a real situation.

The new Member States have participated actively in this programme from the beginning, and 31 countries now participate in Socrates and its Minerva action.

The eLearning programme

2004 has seen the birth of our newest programme in this field, the eLearning programme.

The main objective of the eLearning initiative is to contribute to the effective integration of ICT in the European education and training systems.

The programme will run between 2004 and 2006, with a budget of €44 million. After that, a new generation of European educational programmes should be adopted.

The programme’s first priority is the promotion of digital literacy, in particular for those who, because of their geographical location, social situation or special needs, do not have easy access to these technologies.

The second priority is the promotion of European “virtual campuses”. The objective is to encourage the development of new organisational models for providing higher education in Europe and for European exchange and sharing schemes (“virtual mobility”), building on existing European cooperation frameworks such as the Erasmus programme.

The third priority is the twinning of European schools through the Internet. Our aim is to strengthen and develop cooperation between schools via a European-wide internet-based school-twinning scheme, which would allow all European schools to build pedagogical partnerships with schools elsewhere in Europe.

The fourth priority is action to promote eLearning in Europe through the dissemination and transfer of good and innovative projects and results and cooperation between the different actors involved. A key action of this strategy is the maintenance of a European eLearning portal which acts as a single entry-point for information on eLearning in Europe.

The White Paper on Youth and European Youth Policy

I should now like to turn to my second theme, European youth policy.

There are now 75 million young people between 15 and 25 in the EU, for whom Europe is a place where they are free to live, work, study or travel.

It is therefore important to create conditions in which young Europeans can make their presence felt more keenly as citizens and participate in decisions which concern them.

Youth policy in the European Union has gained momentum in the last few years on the basis of the 2001 White Paper ‘A New Impetus for European Youth’.

This was the first time the European Commission presented a coherent strategy for an EU youth policy. It was the result of a large-scale consultation involving young people from all EU Member States and candidate countries.

The White Paper identified four key messages:

  • active citizenship for young people,

  • expanding and recognising areas of experimentation

  • developing autonomy among young people, and

  • the European Union as the champion of values.

It also identified four priority areas for taking action in the specific youth field, namely:

  • participation,

  • information,

  • voluntary activities, and

  • better understanding of youth.

In addition to the follow-up to the White Paper the Commission has also launched a number of concrete initiatives in the youth field:

  • the creation of a European Youth Portal, publicly accessible since May 2004. This facilitates young people’s access to information on learning, working, volunteering, travelling and on how to be involved in public life.

  • the involvement of young people directly in political processes in the public debate on the Convention. This participation was in particular achieved thanks to the work of the Youth Convention, in summer 2002.

  • the publication by the Commission of two calls for proposals for pilot projects in 2003 and in 2004 in order to support local, regional, national and transnational efforts for fostering participation of young people in everyday life of their communities. The main focus of these projects is the creation of and management of sustainable and effective working networks.

In parallel, the Community YOUTH Programme sets up the legal framework to support non-formal learning activities for young people. The current programme, which runs from 2000 to 2006, caters for the interests of young people and youth workers by offering financial support for projects and providing information, training and opportunities to develop new partnerships across Europe and beyond.

The Commission has recently set out its ideas for the new “Youth” programme for the 2007-2013 period, and a detailed proposal for the new programme should be tabled shortly. This will provide an effective mechanism to support the follow-up to the political process launched by the White Paper, and help to tackle the problems faced by young people at the beginning of the 21st century.

Concluding , I wish the Conference the best success and ask all participants to be active in building new Europe together.

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