The European Parliament (EP) stressed yesterday the need to introduce new measures to bridge digital inequalities. The COVID-19 crisis highlighted inequalities in access to education in the EU. Closing the digital divide should be a priority, the EP said in a statement, adding that the Erasmus + program budget must be tripled. The resolution passed Thursday with 593 votes in favor, 58 against, and 36 abstentions.
The EP condemns the serious discrepancies in terms of access to education that occurred in EU countries during the lockdown, with a high percentage of pupils, reaching 32% in some Nations, who did not have access to education for several months. MEPs fear that this learning loss could reduce the future income levels of the affected generation and that it could potentially hurt labor productivity growth and the competitiveness of the EU as a whole.
Closing the gap must therefore be an immediate concern and the Commission must prioritize targeted investments in infrastructure to improve connectivity at European level, particularly in rural and remote areas, and to increase access to digital equipment. Also, there is a need to invest in refresher and professional development opportunities for teachers and trainers, the Parliament explained in its resolution.
Speaking on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education during the debate before the plenary vote, Victor Negrescu (S&D, RO) said: “Many countries are still unprepared for the second wave that is affecting Europe. More should be done to ensure access to quality education and training for all, and that is why we need to invest in education. We deeply regret that the Council is proposing cuts in programs that support education and training. We reiterate the call to triple the budget of the Erasmus + program. We encourage Member States to significantly increase public spending on education. The Commission must prioritize investment in education in the recovery plan.”
The EP criticizes the lack of coordination and exchange of good practices at European level and calls on the Commission and Member States to work closely together to minimize health risks. The Commission should provide a platform that allows Member States to share good practices and transform the European Education Area “from a rough vision based on general principles into a concrete work program”.
After the vote, rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (PPE, DE) said: “We welcome the package of measures on education presented by the Commission at the end of September; however, this is only the first step. The time has come for the vision of a European education area and a renewed action plan for digital education to be supported by concrete measures and adequate funds.”
According to UNESCO, during the first COVID-19 crisis, access to digital education was around 90% even in the most developed countries of the world, which means that still 10% of school pupils were excluded. Furthermore, less than 25% of low-income countries have provided some form of distance learning.