Equipping Europe’s citizens for the Digital Age

This article was written as part of  Youth Media and the Irish Presidency, a European Movement Ireland initiative that aims to bring a unique and youth-focused perspective to coverage of the Irish Presidency and to encourage regional engagement with the Presidency and Europe.

On Monday 17 June, members of national Parliaments of EU Member States and of the European Parliament met in Dublin Castle to discuss how best to upskill Europe’s communities and citizens for today’s digital age.  The Meeting of Communication, Education and Transport Committees focused on the ways in which digital technology can improve education and transport systems, and contribute to economic renewal across the EU.

The conference was addressed by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, and Ireland’s Digital Champion, Lord David Puttnam.

During the first session of the day, delegates reflected on the imbalance between Europe’s youth unemployment rate and the fact that there are over two million vacancies in the European Union.

‘With so much of our daily lives now conducted online, advancing digital literacy education and training programmes EU-wide is an imperative,’ said Joanna Tuffy TD, Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, who presided over the first session of the conference.

European Commission Director-General for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, Jan Truszczyński spoke of the need to open education systems to the possibilities presented by online learning, and to use existing digital hardware to connect institutions in new ways.  In his speech, Minister Quinn addressed the reform of the education sector in Ireland, emphasising the key role of e-learning and digital media literacy in the incoming curriculum changes.

The second portion of the conference was dedicated to the move towards intelligent transport systems. Issues such as improved connectivity, safety and security, optimal use of data, and energy efficiency were at the core of the debate on how already available technology can contribute to improving Europe’s transport systems.  Ireland’s progress and initiatives in the area were highly commended.  Services such as the Leap Card, Real Time Information System and National Journey Planner were given as examples of new tools that have great room for future expansion.

In the final session of the day, Minister Rabbitte described the progress towards a European digital single market made by Ireland during its Presidency of the Council of the EU.  Robert Madelin, Director-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology at the European Commission, spoke about the Commission’s multi-pronged approach to advancing digital technology around the EU, which is based on the separate foundations of legislation, bandwidth and innovation.  Lord David Puttnam, Ireland’s Digital Champion emphasised the need to speed up digital progress in education systems, in order to give students the skills to deal with the many, and mostly unknown, challenges of the next fifty years.

The conference was a timely meeting, taking place shortly before the arrival of over 600 delegates in Dublin for the Digital Agenda Assembly, one of the biggest events of the Irish Presidency calendar.  Questions of the possibilities and pitfalls of a digital society become increasingly important as technology permeates our lives further.  How Europe copes with this remains to be seen.


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