Our member Cllr Gillian Coughlan of Cork County Council, and representative of the European Committee of the Regions on the European Broadband Platform, spoke at a high-level online event ending the public consultation on the New Digital Education Action Plan for Europe.
Speaking shortly after the introductory remarks of the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for the EU’s digital policies, Cllr Coughlan urged the Commission’s Vice-President to create a level playing field for every European student and teacher, and highlighted a message that she has emphasized repeatedly at EU level:
Access to broadband is a huge problem all across the Union. Teachers had to drastically change their methods when the COVID19 pandemic hit us, but many schools and teachers were not prepared to switch to digital. Thousands of students have lost out and that is why it is so essential to put in place the digital infrastructure that will give all students and teachers equal chances to prosper and develop their skills.
Vice-President Vestager agreed that there was an urgent need to boost connectivity, and she shared an anecdote of a Danish student who explained to her recently that online schooling had in fact made her more visible, because beforehand she would always sit at the back of the class, but with the digital tools she found a way to engage bilaterally with the teacher more easily, and welcomed how the teacher was able to relate to her in a new and meaningful way.
Cllr Coughlan, who is a practising teacher, is also the Deputy Coordinator for Economic Affairs of the Renew Europe Group in the Committee of the Regions.