Maruja Gutierrez-Diaz: "Lifelong learning is a powerful concept, indivisible from the knowledge society"
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The 3rd EU eLearning Conference held in July will address issues of digital literacy, research and innovation for learning and partnership for lifelong learning. Maruja Gutierrez-Diaz, from the DG Education and Culture, is one of the conference's speakers and she tells in this interview her ideas and thoughs about European (e)learning.
Which aspects of the Lisbon Strategy do you find the most challenging in relation to education?
The “triangle of learning”. This is acknowledging clearly that education, research and innovation are the three pillars for European socioeconomic progress and growth. I would add that education is all the more important, as it is at the source of the other two. Research flows naturally from education, but also innovative talent is grown and muscled by education. Fostering a really dynamic and open interaction between the three points of the triangle, between academia, research and industry, is the most important challenge.
With the re-launch of the Lisbon Strategy, how is the European Commission ensuring the balance between reaching the economic objectives and achieving the educational goals?
Human capital is the red thread. Reaching the economic objectives in a knowledge-based economy is a matter of human capital. You just tell me how human capital can be built and nurtured without quality education and training. Furthermore, I would say that both the European Commission and Member States are convinced that there is no fundamental trade-off between economic and social development. There is a communication in the pipeline called “Efficiency and equity in European education and training systems”, which develops these issues in depth. I would advise reading it when it comes out in early October.
What are the key improvements of the new Integrated Action Programme (2007-2013) regarding e-Learning?
The fundamental improvement of the new programme is the mainstreaming of ICT. We should not forget that the full title of the e-Learning Programme is “a multi-annual programme for the effective integration of Information and Communication Technologies in education and training systems in Europe”. Effective integration is a short and good definition of mainstreaming. In the new programme, it will not be possible to place ICT outside “true education”, to consider it as something apt only for the technologically minded. ICT should become invisible, a “learning facility”, as essential and embedded as reading or writing.
For many years, lifelong learning was used to define informal adult education; how would you define this concept nowadays? How would you define the role of ICT in this context?
The definition of lifelong learning given in the 2001 Memorandum is a good one, and I would not attempt to change it. Lifelong learning is “all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence, within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective.” Lifelong learning is a powerful concept, indivisible from the knowledge society. Sometimes words get used and abused, and they become so familiar that they lose some of their charisma. Lifelong learning has become a mantra – but maybe this is not a bad thing, as lifelong learning is the most important thing we can think about. Lifelong learning is central, and it is natural.
We all like learning – if you have any doubts about it you need only look at people’s faces when they learn something of interest to them. But often, formal learning obscures the joyful roots of learning. It is a fact that the further you develop your learning, the more you have to work at it. For many people in society, this can be very hard, maybe too hard. Getting the lifelong learning paradigm to life means providing everybody with the skills, the competences, the tools, the interest and the opportunities to keep up learning, about whatever they need or wish to know. Like school, but more and better and longer.
What makes me passionate about ICT for learning is that I see ICT as an unbelievably strong support to personal learning capacities and possibilities. Developing this human potential is the core challenge of ICT for education. In our times, I simply cannot see lifelong learning happening without ICT.
What are the projects you expect to take place under this new programme?
We have seen a lot of interest and creativity under the e-Learning Programme, as well as under Socrates-Minerva and the IST education and training lines. We hope that all these good ideas will find their place under the new programme. In particular, we expect e-Twinning to go on as a simple and user-friendly school cooperation tool; we expect virtual campuses to become a fundamental part of the European Space of Education infrastructure, and we expect digital literacy and digital competences to develop as basic literacy at all levels. Under the transversal sub-programme, we will do our best to continue addressing core common concerns. For example, issues related to digital contents production, interoperability, and distribution. We will also go on supporting evaluation, documentation and the exchange of good practices and policies.
What do you expect to be the most significant outcome of the e-Learning Conference 2006?
This conference is very timely, and it will provide precious input for the preparation of an important policy paper, which will be our reference framework for the years to come. It is a communication on ICT and innovation and lifelong learning for all, which should be adopted by the Commission in November 2006.
Looking at what has been done and what will be done, are you optimistic about the future of ICT in European education?