The Horizon Report Europe – 2014 Schools Edition is a joint publication by the European Commission and the New Media Consortium, a US-based grouping of academic institutions and colleges. The report examines how the education system in Europe could or should make use of the new information and communication technologies and identifies the major challenges.

European Commission Keen to Encourage the Connected School

The European Commission and its partners have put a great deal of effort into identifying the needs and challenges of the school of tomorrow, drawing on input from more than fifty experts from twenty-two countries worldwide. The report basically focuses on the use of digital tools in schools-based education. In other words, how can the new ICTs and the new media which have emerged from them best be used to teach the EU’s future citizens and how can educators adapt their teaching to this new way of communicating? Every day, according to a report from the Internet Society, some 175 million Europeans connect to the social networks. Hence the vital need to integrate such tools into the school programme and teacher skillsets. The experts contributing to the report have put forward a number of solutions which they rank according to their feasibility levels. The ideas proposed range from broad government action to local decision-making by school principals and the pupils themselves.

Teachers as change drivers

The expert contributors stress that one of the primary areas for action on the digital front is training teachers in the new technologies and media. However, a recent report from Paris-based education tracking organisation Savoir Livre and French opinion survey specialist TNS Sofres indicates that France’s teachers, far from being nonplussed by digital, are in fact using these tools more and more. Between 2011 and 2014, the percentage of primary school teachers using digital manuals has jumped from 8% to 20%. And today nearly half (45%) of all teachers of History and Geography use digital materials. In contrast, the Horizon Report Europe authors argue the need to raise the profile of schools on the social networks, pointing to the benefits of obtaining parent and student feedback. Better communication is likely to make life easier for teachers, who often have to face a certain degree of dislike among their students. The report also encourages the use of online resources to improve teaching, while admitting that developing this approach will be a tall order.

Giving students a more active role: a ‘wicked’ challenge!

The report then looks a little further into the future. Making pupils and students the ‘co-designers’ of their own education might well be the next major challenge for schools and universities. They ought to be be encouraged to undertake their own research, carry out online projects, learn through interactive games, and so on – in other words ICTs should be used to give students more control over their own learning process, say the authors. In fact the Hellerup School in Denmark is already trying to apply this pioneering concept by providing a variety of learning spaces in which pupils can move about freely. The students become responsible for their own learning. To achieve this approach broadly across Europe is however a long-term objective, which falls into the category the authors describe as ‘wicked’ challenges. Because, although the new technologies certainly have the potential to improve the quality of teaching, they can also under certain circumstances lead to increases in inequality and even bring about a deterioration in student-teacher relations.  In conclusion, one thing seems certain: the model for a connected school still remains to be invented.

By Guillaume Scifo