From digital natives to European digital citizens – Victor Negrescu

Photo of a classroom with children working on a tablet

By Victor Negrescu, vice-chair of the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament and co-chair of the European Education Alliance. Former Romanian EU affairs minister and university lecturer.

European youth is digital native. Using computers and the latest technologies is as easy for young people today as it was playing football or hide and seek during their childhood for most grownups. But having the aptitudes does not mean automatically having the competences. Many of young digital natives are just consumers of digital technologies because they were not equipped with the skills required to control the process.

One of the biggest tasks of the European Union in the future is to empower young people in leading the digital transformation by giving them ownership and the capacity to decide and choose what, when and how this change is to occur. The key policy line for that is the new European Digital Education Action Plan that together with the European Parliament report on how to shape a European digital education policy are designing the future of the digital transformation of education.

These strategic documents plan to increase the level of digital skills, including for educators and learners, design a new European Hub for Digital Education, generate wide consultations, and promise to introduce common competence standards and digital requirements. The goal is to learn from the mistakes of the pandemic, when millions of children were left without education during the lockdown, and not leave anyone behind. Digital education seemed a privilege for those having access to better digital equipment with huge inequalities between and within member states.

If we want to deliver on this task to make young people the driving force of the transformation of the European Union we have to deliver in making sure all European children and young people have access to the opportunities offered by the digital transformation and for that access to quality education is key. Therefore, the European Union has chosen to put education as the first European pillar of social rights because the starting point for change is and always will be learning, skilling and training.

But to lead this change the European Union must design which type of digital transformation it wants. Together, EU institutions and member states are trying to define that through documents like the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. Europe can become a global digital leader, and this can be done only by leading that transformation in partnership with relevant stakeholders, by using transparent regulation and an effective level of moral and ethical guidelines. Nothing can be achieved without working together with the private sector, the civil society or European and local stakeholders. The transformation should be inclusive and widely supported by all relevant actors.

The goal is to offer young people the capacity to become true European digital citizens and learn how to use their native digital aptitudes while knowing their digital rights and obligations. For that, one of the core elements that should be widely promoted across EU legislation and initiatives is citizenship education than can become the engine for digital empowerment. Only through dialogue, consultations and learning could we achieve in making a successful digital transformation for all Europeans.