Entrepreneur. Educator. Influencer.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Digital education in Luxembourg - how much progress since 2004?

Last week I had the honor to represent Luxembourg in the international Digital Conference organized by the University of South Asia, located in Pakistan, and to contribute to its success, together with professionals and academics from other 40 countries. My sincere congratulations go to Mr. Aamir Abbas Chaudhry, the soul and brain of the conference, for the impressive organization. 


I was asked to talk about a topic I'm particularly interested in and passionate about: Digital education in Luxembourg.

I structured my presentation in 3 parts:
1.    Some personal experiences with digital learning
2.    A conceptual approach to digital education and some best practices
3.    Conclusions

The topic of digital education has been of a great importance in Luxembourg. My first experience with digital education took place in 2002 when I was working for the Luxembourg campus of Sacred Heart University, Jack Welsh College of Business where I also did my MBA with a double concentration in International business and Marketing. (You might want to have a look at their amazing MBA with internship programme, which very often is transformed into a working contract). As part of my marketing courses, I’ve chosen an online course on E- commerce with a focus on how the consumer behavior was changing in the online environment compared to when shopping in the shop. Even though all the interactions, assignments and communications were conducted online, we used a paper format book.
After graduating in 2003, I set up a training company first in London and then in Luxembourg. Very much motivated by my MBA studies and the amazing opportunities offered by the digital education, I created the following year the very first Luxembourgish online course. Not only did this educational programme offer our institute a great visibility and many articles in the national press, but it was also very appealing to people who did not live in Luxembourg but had Luxembourgish ancestors. Our digital solution enabled them in Shanghai, Brazil, France, UK, United States to learn some basic Luxembourgish and to acquire the Luxembourgish nationality.
In November 2017, for my 40th birthday, I offered myself an amazing gift: a one-month executive course at INSEAD, the most international university in the world, based in Fontainebleau (30 minutes away from Paris), France. My “Advanced Management Programme” took place on campus. It was my 4th programme at Insead and you can read here my testimonial, if you'd like to know more about this learning experience. But what was unique this time is that the Advanced Management Programme was paperless and entirely digital, one month long ... 
It was a bit surprising at that time, I must admit. I even asked myself for a few seconds if I'll feel entirely at ease... Because for about 15 years working in the field of education in Luxembourg, I have noticed a general lack of interest for digital education among the participants in our in company learning programmes.
To give you just an example, we offered during 3 years 2007-2010 to one of our customers with more than 1000 employees a free bonus: the possibility to use an online learning programme for 30 languages, in addition to their in company trainings. We monitored the use of the tool during 3 years and noticed that more than 85% of the participants didn’t even log in once, even though they were asking us very eagerly to receive their credentials. Despite a theoretical interest and obvious potential benefits… the participants were not going ahead to use the digital tool.
When in 2017 I created the mobile application called “365 days Luxembourgish” to allow anyone to teach himself/herself Luxembourgish, the situation was completely different, even though only separated by a decade.

So this leads me to my next point, namely that when we use the expression 'digital education', we need to refer to 2 fundamental dimensions, 2 different but complementary perspectives:
-          on one hand: digital competences (with the development of learners’ as well as teachers’ digital competence), and
-          on the other hand: the pedagogical use of digital technologies to support, enhance and transform learning and teaching.
 
But what is the digital competence? It is defined as the confident, critical and responsible use of and engagement with digital technologies for learning, work, and participation in society.
May I remind you that this happened until 2010 when I decided to no longer offer the free bonus but rather focus on tailormade learning programmes in company rather than digital.
It was also in 2010 that the European Commission adopted a new Digital Agenda for Europe, which reaffirmed digital and media literacy as one of the central educational challenges.
At the European level, all countries were already having in 2010 a national strategy in place to encourage the use of digital technology in different areas.
Because already in 2006 the European Parliament and the Council recommended to all state members to acknowledge as a priority in the European and national policies the need for all citizens to understand that the digital competence is a key competence that must be developed through lifelong learning.

The European framework for digital competence, also known as DigComp, first published in 2013, has since been revised several times. This framework describes in detail the digital competence that all citizens need in a rapidly evolving digital society;

And here I want to highlight all citizens, because education concerns us all.

The European framework for digital competence divides the knowledge, skills and attitudes that all citizens need into five areas:

1. Information and data literacy;

2. Communication and collaboration;

3. Digital content creation;                                               

4. Safety;                              

5. Problem solving.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important the digital skills (both basic and advanced) have become to our economy and society, by allowing work to continue or by tracking the spread of the virus in our country.

Digital will also play a key role in the economic recovery that Luxembourg, like all the other countries is preparing. 

As you probably know, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is located in the center of Europe and was one of the founding members of the European Union. Our neighbours are Belgium, France and Germany and about 160.000 people from these 3 countries pass the borders every day (in normal circumstances) to come to work in Luxembourg.

In addition to English, which is widely spoken, we have three official languages: Luxembourgish, French and German.

These details are important because Luxembourg's strategies in a lot of areas, including education, need to take into consideration the diversity of our work force, human resources available in the region for our labour market, the educational initiatives put into place by our neighbours, including those related to digital skills and education, data protection but also health & social security. 

In 2014, the Luxembourg government launched its flagship initiative, the ‘Digital Luxembourg’, to support the state’s transition towards a digital society and economy = a partnership between the government and more than 109 public and private actors of the digital ecosystem. 

The main focus areas of Digital Lëtzebuerg cover: 

• ICT infrastructures; 

• support for innovation and access to financing for start-ups; 

• 'FinTech'; 

e-skills; 

• e-administration; 

• Promotion of Luxembourg. 

In the context of our presentation, we are focused on e-skills. As mentioned earlier, digital competences need to be developed throughout the entire life. In addition, unemployment among low-skilled workers is relatively high in Luxembourg, which illustrates the challenges in the education and vocational training that we still have to face.

Luxembourg is one of the 18 European education systems that have a specific strategy devoted to digital education. The Digital4Education strategy was introduced in 2015 by Luxembourg’s Minister of Education, Childhood & YouthIts objective is to educate young people in digital media, as well as to teach them through digital media. Its mission is to prepare young people for a professional landscape of rapid & permanent change. Because indeed, in order to be fit for the 21st century, young people need to develop certain skills & know-how in line with the development of our society and economy.

The strategy is structured around 5 axes and encompasses a broad portfolio of programs reflecting the diversity of opportunities offered by the growing ICT sector in our country:
1)    Digital citizen (e-Health, unique ID, e-Banking, e-Card)
2)    Digital peer (Bee secure, Bee balanced, Bee fair, Safer internet, Cyberbully, Sexting)
The young people are prepared to use digital technologies efectively and safely – they are made aware of the risks of cyber-bullying, internet addiction or the loss of privacy, potential misuse of personal data, web-tracking, spreading of fake news.... I hope somethinh similar will be put in place for the elderly…
3)    Digital learner (EDUsphere, MathemaTIC, Digital textbook, e-library) 
4)    Digital worker (Digital classroom, Mobile learning – the tabletsclasses) and 
      5) Digital entrepreneur (Bee creative) The Bee Creative program, launched as part of this overarching strategy, specifically focuses on improving the digital skills of young people in Luxembourg & building a digital culture, including via the introduction of makerspaces within schools. This unprecedented accessibility to high-tech tools takes the notion of educational resources to a new level. 

      As you can easily notice, Luxembourg’s strategy includes quite a lot of innovative educational projects aimed at bringing the digital technology to the youth, a strategy that should inspire future ICT experts & entrepreneurs. But how to check the progress or success of its strategy implementation? How to identify the reasons for successes and failures in translating the policy into practice? For example, in my opinion, the current national strategy forgot to consider also the needs for digital skills of the senior citizens, who are struggling with the basic use of e-banking, e-card etc. 

      It is extremely important to be aware that the implementation process can take several years. If we look at Luxembourg’s strategy for digital education but also at other different European countries, we notice that many national strategies in digital education are very recent, so it is a bit too early to measure the progress towards achieving the strategic objectives. 
    
    On top of everything, in Luxembourg (+ half of the European countries) there are no monitoring or evaluation procedures in place. In Luxembourg (+ France), objectives related to digital education have to be included in the general school development plan (which is established at the national level). In this context, I’d like to mention a best practice that it’s worth learning from and get inspired by: the National Digital Strategy of Romania has a monitoring element which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Communication and Information Society. The methodology as well as quantitative and qualitative indicators have been specified in a Manual for Monitoring and Evaluation of the National Digital Strategy published in Jan 2016. It is a quite impressive quality management tool, I must say, especially for someone like me with a Master degree in Quality management.
 
Coming back to Luxembourg, despite the absence of regulations, indicators or monitoring methodology, all public schools are supported in developing digital education. This is done through investment in IT infrastructure, requirements for school digital plans, digital leadership in school (school heads and digital coordinators), parental involvement, availability and quality of digital learning resources.
One last relevant point I would like to mention before I conclude is the involvement of parents.
Involving and supporting parents in digital education is essential for the development of student digital competences. Because young people spend more time on internet activities outside school than in school, which means that parents have an important role in encouraging their children to become critical and confident users of technology.
Very rarely is the parental involvement featured among the main objectives of the European countries’ digital education strategies.
A best practice can be found in France where a practical guide for parents on the use of digital technologies has been developed. Guide La famille tout écran – excellent tool. 
      In Luxembourg, the parents are informed / consulted via the associations of parents and since 2019 via the newly created National association of parents, which hopefully will help in the future with the communication flow between schools and families.            

     After the general elections in October 2018, Luxembourg created a new Ministry of Digitisation. The Ministry is headed by the Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, and is in charge of all issues linked to digitisation. The Ministry coordinates initiatives developed by other Ministries and other partners in the field of digitisation and e-Government.  

     In conclusion, the best is yet to come and Luxembourg is "making it happen". 
    According to the 2020 Digital Economy and Society Index issued by the European Commission every year since 2014, Luxembourg ranks 10th out of 28 EU Member states. 
      Luxembourg continues to implement a range of strategies and initiatives to boost the digital skills of its population and to attract and retain talent, to address the significant digital skills gap on the labour market. Relevant examples are the Digital4Education strategy, the inclusion of coding in the education curricula of cycle 4 of the fundamental education programme which has been very criticized this week by the teachers' syndicates, or the Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy that includes measures to boost advanced digital skills. 

      To be continued...
 
 


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