On 19-20 April, the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union organised its flagship conference on digital skills “Educate to Create: from Digital Consumers to Digital Creators”. The one and a half day conference focused on how to promote digital creativity among learners, with attention to issues such as teacher training, gender equality, internet connectivity for schools and rural areas, and cooperation of educational establishments with industry and non-formal education. The conference was attended by both national and European political representatives, as well as delegates from national ministries, business and civil society, including LLLP and members. It also resulted in the adoption of the Sofia Call for Action on Digital Skills and Education, to which LLLP contributed.
In his welcome speech, Bulgarian Minister for Education and Science Mr Krasimir Valchev pointed out the need to integrate digital technologies across all subjects and to invest in all skills, not forgetting basic skills. Deputy Minister for Education and Science Ms Denitsa Sacheva focused on the importance of helping teachers to become creators and the need for a school environment that fosters such creativity – this starts with school leaders and implementing a “whole school approach”. EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Mr Tibor Navracsics recalled the initiatives of the Digital Education Action Plan and also highlighted the need for stronger synergies between formal and non-formal education, recognising the contribution that businesses, community centres, museums and libraries can make to fostering digital creativity (see full speech here). EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Ms Mariya Gabriel called for providing adequate digital infrastructure in rural areas and remote regions, improving girls’ participation in digital skills training and rolling out further the Digital Opportunity Traineeship Scheme.
LLLP welcomes the attention attributed to non-formal education in the course of the conference, as providers in this area are key for reaching out to marginalised groups and ensuring they are able to benefit from the possibilities afforded by digital technology. In particular, the workshop “The role of non-formal education and training in digital creativity” facilitated by LLLP Member ALL DIGITAL included some inspiring practices in this area, such as the Horizon 2020 project ‘Makerspaces in the early years: Enhancing digital literacy and creativity’ (MakEY) and the Brussels-based Maks vzw initiative. We call on policymakers to look closely at the lessons for digital creativity and inclusion that such examples can offer and to pursue more ambitious policies for learning beyond the formal sector. We must support and invest in collaborations across formal, non-formal and informal learning, also recognising the innovation inherent in civil society and not only industry, to ensure no one is left behind in the ongoing digital revolution. This also requires a rethink of assessment methods, harnessing the potential of technology to adapt education to learners’ needs in the 21st century and facilitate a nuanced evaluation of their full range of competences, crucial for learner motivation and helping them get the most from their learning experience. By the same token, appropriate validation arrangements are needed in order to valorise and make visible the digital and other forms of skills obtained through non-formal and informal learning activities.
When discussing how to harness learners’ digital creativity, it is also important to reflect on the creative skills that lie behind the use of digital tools in teaching and learning activities. As LLLP today launches with its partners the position paper “Building synergies between education and culture”, we recall the broader place that such skills and competences have in the lifelong learning arena. Although it is in some ways becoming a false dichotomy to talk about ‘online’ and ‘offline’ – indeed, our learning happens increasingly in a blended way – it is essential to boost support for cultural and arts education with a learner-centred focus across all forms of learning, whether such activities are supported using digital technologies or not. This should entail further measures to assist educators and learners of all types in grasping and developing the key competence Cultural Awareness and Expression, as well as investing in and building on fruitful synergies between all EU programmes touching on education, culture and digital competences. These are just some of the steps needed to promote skills development in and through culture and make #LearnToCreate a guiding principle throughout education, training and lifelong learning policies.