All children need a good education. Schools are the main providers of this education and without committed, inspired and well-qualified teachers, schools cannot fulfil this task. This is one of the starting points of Opening Up Education, a new EU initiative to enable both teachers and students reap the benefits of the digital revolution in education.

Today, more than 60 per cent of nine-year-olds in the European Union are in schools that are not digitally equipped and 70 per cent of teachers say they are not getting the training they would like for using digital technologies in the classroom and in lesson preparation.

Inequalities in connecting people in the digital era also lead to inequalities in education. So it’s important to organise education in a way that does not repeat or enlarge this problem. We can neither ignore the need for digital equipment, nor think that buying a tablet will make everyone digitally literate. We need well-trained teachers and good content in addition to the infrastructure and equipment.

We cannot accept a digital divide in Europe. Both at EU and national level, we need to provide more funding for the necessary actions to support these three elements. We have full trust in our teachers. Now is the time to support them so they can develop a new mindset to incorporate these technologies in the learning process.

Inequalities in connecting people in the digital era also lead to inequalities in education

Some question whether we can afford this in a time of austerity. The question should rather be: can we afford not to?

Investment in education is the best investment we can make in our young people.

Teachers can work magic in the classroom, with an extraordinary impact on individual lives and communities. But in a world where children live and breathe with digital technologies, facilitating learning in the classroom needs to adapt. Today, teachers need new tools to make their class appealing. A magician has a rabbit and a hat and, in the 21st century, digital skills and digital equipment must be essential tools of the trade in the teaching profession.

We cannot accept a situation where teachers feel they don’t know enough how to use digital technology. Or where technology is perceived as a threat to their knowledge and authority. They deserve the right training and the right equipment.

There are simple things that the European Union can do to help. Like maintaining the open Education Europa web portal that launches this month. This portal provides free-to-use resources, which are also free of copyright restrictions, to help make a better digital teaching and learning experience. It’s a place where teachers and students can explore together or on their own.

So what about funding? The European Commission will support these objectives with money from Erasmus+, the new EU programme for education, training and youth, Horizon 2020, the new programme for research and innovation and the EU funds for Europe’s regions. All educational materials supported by Erasmus+ will be freely available to the public under open licences.

Funding possibilities under the structural funds and Horizon 2020 will be even greater: it’s up to member states and regional authorities to make ICT infrastructure and teacher training a priority.

Our ambition is for people of all ages in Europe to benefit from new learning methods so that our people are more creative, innovative, entrepreneurial and more employable.

Opening up education will help teachers make the transition from gatekeepers to guides and for education to become more accessible so that everyone, from school to the ‘university of life’, is on board the digital express.

This is the message that we send to all teachers on the occasion of the International Day of Teachers today.

Now is the time to make a real change.

Neelie Kroes is vice president of the European Commission responsible for the digital agenda and Androulla Vassiliou is European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

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