Tapio VARIS

University of Tampere, Finland

 

Microsoft Government Leaders Forum-Europe

Prague, January 31-February 2, 2005

 

Background ideas for Session: Discussion Forum I - Track A: Employment and Social Inclusion

 

Education and e-Skills in a Knowledge-Based Economy

 

 

Europe cannot face the global ICT challenge in isolation. Mr. Cristovam Buoarque, Minister of Education of Brazil, said in his opening speech to the International Seminar "University XXI" in Brasilia, November 2003, that knowledge has evolved at a speed that academic centres are not prepared for it, university diplomas no longer give a guarantee for the future, communications media are taking the role of knowledge sharing, production of knowledge is global, and that globalisation, however, separates the world.

 

The spirit of global co-operation is expressed by Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of Unesco, who emphasises that "it is necessary to build up large movement to humanise globalisation, based on solidarity, on the spirit of caring for and sharing with others." Therefore Unesco promotes "Open Educational ResourcesÓ (OER) initiative as a co-operation mechanism for the open, non-commercial use of educational resources.

 

The European Commissioner in education, Ms. Viviane Reding wrote in our publication  "Global Peace Through the Global University System" (edited by Tapio Varis - Takeshi Utsumi and William Klemm, University of Tampere 2003) that in Europe, universities are key actors in the transition to the Knowledge Society. It is crucial that we consider how best we in Europe can adapt and strengthen our educational polices to help us in this transition, which has been aptly described as a 'Knowledge Revolution'. Education plays an increasing role in preparing all of us, but especially our young people, to understand and to take advantage of the Knowledge Society.

 

Against this background, the European Council set in 2000 an ambitious target for Europe to become within ten years "the most competitive and dynamic-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion." They also placed education firmly at the top of the political agenda, calling for education and training policies to be adapted to meet this challenge.

 

In response to this, the European Commission launched its eLearning Action Plan in 2001. It is an ambitious initiative, addressing ICT needs in all areas of education and training, and it is soon to become a full program. In addition, in July 2002, the Commission presented a proposal for another new program, Erasmus Mundus, to enhance quality in European Higher Education and to promote intercultural understanding through co-operation with third countries in higher education. Finally, in February 2003, we adopted a new Communication on the role of universities in the Europe of knowledge. (Reding 2003)

 

In Europe, Finland has been one model of developing an information and knowledge based society. Implementing ICT in our educational system so that it will reach the vast majority, however, will require still much work and resources. According to the assessment there is still a shortage of high-quality digital learning materials, pedagogical and technical support is still insufficient and teacher training needs to be increased and better-focused

 

The Finnish National Strategy for Education, Training and Research in the Information Society emphasises that success will be based on citizens equal opportunities to study and develop their own knowledge and extensively utilise information resources and educational services. A high-quality, ethically and economically sustainable mode of operation in network-based teaching and research will have be established.

 

The Ministry of Education has established an action programme to implement the aims of the strategy. In order to achieve the objectives of lifelong learning and an information society based on civic equality, an extensive programme has been launched to familiarise citizens with new ways of the information society, and to improve media literacy, and information and communication technology skills of citizens.

 

In order to promote the new literacies European-wide we are participating in the project of creating a European Centre for Media Literacy , see: http://ecml.pc.unicatt.it/english/.

 

I have been involved with the idea of creating a Global University System (GUS). The Global University System is a world-wide initiative to create satellite/wireless telecommunications infrastructure and educational programs for access to educational resources across national and cultural boundaries for global peace. The GUS help higher educational institutions in remote/rural areas of developing countries to deploy broadband Internet in order for them to close the digital divide and act as the knowledge centre of their community for the education of poverty and isolation. Education and job skills are the keys in determining a nation«s wealth and influence. As the ultimate stage, competition among nations will be competition among educational systems. The GUS education thus will promote world prosperity, justice, and peace, based on moral principles rather than political or ideological doctrines.

 

There is an urgent need to focus on the digital content services of different disciplines and fields of applications in order to avoid biased e-library services. Learning technology standards are critical because they will help us to answer a number of open issues. Whether it is the creation of content libraries, or learning management systems, accredited standards will reduce the risk of making large investments in learning technologies because systems will be able to work together like never before. Accredited standards assure that the investment in time and intellectual capital can move from one system to the next.

 

As pointed out by Dr. Ritva-Sini Merilampi in the Ministry of Education, the strong Finnish faith in learning and cultivation is a heritage of the 19th century proponents of the Finnish culture and civilisation. It is widely understood that literacy is not inherited, but each generation must build its own literacy. Both young and old Finns, boys and girls alike are highly literate in the traditional and also in the new media environment.

 

In the information society, knowledge forms the foundation for education and culture and constitutes the single most important production factor. Information and communications technology significantly promotes interaction and exchange of information between individuals, business enterprises, and other organisations, as well as the provision of, and access to, services. The extent to which the information society is implemented in schools and libraries, health care, the promotion of business and industry and other administrative services, as well as enhancing transparent decision-making, largely depends on the decisions made and the measures taken by local authorities.

 

The national vision is a society, which develops and utilises the opportunities inherent in the information society to improve the quality of life, knowledge, international competitiveness and interaction in an exemplary, versatile and sustainable way.

 

To open up better opportunities for self-enhancement, interaction and influence the decisive factors for the competitiveness of a business enterprise are rapid responses, flexibility and networking. The public sector develops the overall conditions for the information society and promotes the construction of technology and the infrastructure. To be able to make the best use of the opportunity thus offered for everyone who needs new skills or intercommunication with one to other.

 

Uncontrolled information society development may lead to the exclusion of some population groups and regions. The increasing use of ICT in office work is conducive to efficiency, and at the same time it reduces labour needs. Electronic transactions and trade may impair services for those with inadequate skills and knowledge for electronic self-service. Access to sources of information in the midst of the information flood may increase inequality between people if the cost of reliable and well organized information services is too high. The constantly expanding data systems include more and more information about individuals, which, if abused, may compromise people's privacy. Dependence on ICT may increase risks in nearly all activities, which highlights the need to prepare for exceptional circumstances.

 

In his epilogue on "Education for a multicultural world" to the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century published by UNESCO in 1996, Rodolfo Stavenhagen pointed out that most modern nation-states are organised on the assumption that they are, or should be, culturally homogeneous.  That is the essence of modern "nationhood," upon which contemporary statehood and citizenship are founded.  But a truly multicultural education will be one that can address simultaneously the requirements of global and national integration, and the specific needs of particular culturally distinct communities, both in rural and urban setting (Stavenhagen 1996, p.230-231).

 

The Global University System (GUS) is adopting philosophies and principles that emphasise trans-cultural and moral values rather than ideologies.  The priority is in academic freedom and quality in education (Utsumi, et al., 2001). The Global University System (GUS) is a network of networks formed in particular by higher education institutions, but also by other organisations sharing the same objectives of developing a co-operation based on solidarity and partnership aiming to improving the global learning and wellness environment for people in the global knowledge society, where the global responsibility is shared by all.

 

The GUS at the University of Tampere, Finland is the headquarters Chair of the GUS/UNESCO/UNITWIN Networking Program. When broadband Internet will be available and interconnect member schools of our GUS/UNESCO/UNITWIN Networking Program, we can expect followings:

 

        Coalition member universities will be able to build the network of facilitators for support of e-learners,

 

        Learners may take one course from a university of different country, in Japan, Canada, Brazil, Finland, etc., to get his/her degree from the GUS, thus freeing them from being confined with one philosophy of a university. The broadband Internet will enable Web-based teaching with more interaction among/between learners and instructors compared with less interaction in replicating class-room teaching via satellite - thus stimulating global dialogues among them to attain world peace,

 

        Learners and faculties at the member universities can promote exchange of ideas, information, knowledge and joint research and development of Web-based teaching materials, community development, and many others locally, regionally and even in global scale,

 

        Researchers in even developing countries can perform joint collaborative Hi-Tech research and development on various subjects, e.g., Globally Collaborative Environmental Peace Gaming, micro-biology, meteorology, chemical molecular study, DNA analysis, 3D human anatomy, design of space shuttle, etc.

 

In a sense, our GUS/UNESCO/UNITWIN Networking Chair program is to construct global scale knowledge forum with advanced ICT, e.g., with the use of massive parallel processors of globally distributed and yet interconnected mini-supercomputers around the world through Global Broadband Internet (GBI) of the global neural computer network

 

 

References:

 

Buoarque, Cristovam: Responsible University, Opening Address in the International Seminar "University XXI, New Paths for Higher Education: The Future in Debate" in Brasilia, Brazil, November 25, 2003.

 

Matsuura, Koichiro, Address to the World Forum of Unesco Chairs, Unesco, Paris, 13 November 2002.

http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001281/128198e.pdf.5.11.2004

 

Merilampi, Ritva-Sini: Facts behind young Finns« success in literacy comparisons. Unpublished paper, Ministry of Education, Helsinki, Finland, May 2002

 

Reding Viviane: The Global University System and the European Union, In Global Peace Through The Global University System 2003 Ed. by T. Varis, T. Utsumi, and W. R. Klemm University of Tampere, HŠmeenlinna, Finland

 

Utsumi, Takeshi – Varis, Tapio – Knight, Peter – Method, Francis – Pelton, Joseph: Using broadband to close the digital divide. Intermedia, April 2001, Vol. 29, No 2.

 

Varis, Tapio: What is media competence and why is it necessary? Parliamentary Assembly Hearing, Council of Europe, 23 March 2000, Brussels.

 

Varis, Tapio: Approaches to media literacy and e-Learning. European Commission Workshop, ÒImage Education and Media Literacy,Ó November 16th, 2000, Brussels (Varis 2000a).

 

Varis, Tapio - Takeshi Utsumi - William Klemm (Eds.): Global Peace Through The Global University System, University of Tampere, Finland, 2003. Saarijarven Offset Oy.ISBN 951-44-5695-5