EU citizens need the right tools in to thrive in the digital age, PwC Lux Director Virginie Laye here discusses key touchstones for future planning.

Digital skills are two words that imply the need, not only to implement the latest technology, but also to prepare people to face emerging societal challenges - such as privacy and ethical issues, mental and physical health - related to digitalisation. To ensure that European citizens are able to thrive in the digital age, education and training must play a key role.

These essential skills go beyond the ability to use digital technology to obtain, produce and share information. They also imply the ability to solve complex problems and efficiently process and evaluate digital information, both among young people, adults and workers.

All over the world, the unexpected developments and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education affected more than 100 million learners, educators, education and training staff in Europe. The partial, or even total, closure of schools and campus buildings triggered the beginning of a new experience, one that will continue in the majority of cases as the pandemic continues to change our way of living and working. To ensure that learning, teaching and assessment could continue, digital technologies have been used on a massive scale, never seen before. As a result, the digitisation of current education and training systems has accelerated significantly.

Virginie Laye, Director at PwC Luxembourg dives into this matter, shedding light on how education is fundamentally changing and how human intelligence and agility are the best tools to adapt and evolve in technology-led environments.

1. What can you tell us about the European Commission’s update of its Digital Education Action Plan?

The truth is, a direct effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was the unprecedented shift to online learning and the use of digital technologies. It also brought the opportunity to reflect on what we have learnt until now when navigating the COVID-19 crisis and how to profit from both the opportunities and challenges that digital transformation brings.

The European Commission updated its Digital Education Action Plan in September, after requesting feedback in a public consultation. The aim was to take solid steps towards an inclusive education and training in the digital age. I’m proud and happy to say that the PwC network contributed to the EC’s public consultation. It was a global initiative with other Belgium, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The new Action Plan has two main priorities that summarise these opportunities: Foster the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem and enhance digital skills and competences for digital transformation.

2. What’s the difference between digitisation and digitalisation in the education context?

Digitisation is what we consider as the process of converting physical aspects of education into digital formats (e.g. developing courses in an electronic format).

Digitalisation, on the other hand, implies reimagining the current education and training processes with the help of digital technologies.

The key purpose of digitalisation in education isn’t just to “go digital”, but to add value and increase effectiveness through modern technologies.

The term digitalisation implies seeing the bigger picture, having a long-term perspective, and serving the purpose of fitting education and training systems to the needs of Europeans in the 21st-century.

3. What is the base for traditional education that embraces digital and adheres to it in a secure manner?

The base to make this shift happen successfully is a trusted digital ecosystem whose pillars are education strategy, content, and tools. Learners’ feedback and ratings are necessary for the system to continuously improve and, at the same time, attract other learners and highlight the most appreciated content creators.

Centralised platforms, such as video-based online training, can play a valuable role by aggregating offerings from niche players, offering structure and direction for learners. But these centralised platforms tend to have very little flexibility when it comes to personalisation, limiting the learner’s choice to what the platform has to offer.

The creation of learning ecosystems which could benefit from centralised platforms should always come first. To be effective, they must be customisable to address the specific needs of individuals, groups, enterprises, value chains and clusters.

AI-augmented learning ecosystems and platforms could facilitate access for learners to personalised solutions from any suitable sources. However, they would also need to include guidance, coaching, assistance, assessment, validation and certification of learning outcomes.

4. What are the key strategies and approaches to the shift towards digitalisation of education and training systems?

First of all, we have to consider the two sides of digital education. The first is the integration of emerging technologies in our learning journeys such as VR, AR and online collaboration tools. The other, probably the most challenging, is turning mindsets towards new ways of learning. Education needs to walk hand-in-hand with technology and digital developments as they’re constantly changing the way we live and work.

For these reasons, relevant strategies should include:

● the preparation of students for lifelong learning, motivating them to engage in continuous learning throughout their professional lives;

● the offering of ‘big picture’ education, monitoring how the educational offer fits into the overall learning trajectory and labour market;

● the development of curriculum goals that consider not only market/company needs but also societal needs, such as sustainability and ethics, and, particularly, learner’s own needs or individual characteristics;

● the deep understanding that students –young, teenagers, adults and individuals involved in long-line learning– are change agents and it’s crucial to actively engage them in curriculum development and implementation;

● the application of cooperative work-based, project-based or problem-based learning, stimulating students to work on challenging real-life problems for which there are no established answers; and

● the students to be mindful of their safety and ergonomics at work, and specifically about the necessity of maintaining good physical and mental health, and the possible consequences of risk exposure.


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