Insights on the new EU Council Recommendations on digital skills and enabling factors for digital education


The Education Ministers meeting on 23 November 2023 at the Education Council of the European Union adopted a package of twin Council Recommendations on improving the provision of digital skills and competences in education and training and on the key enabling factors for successful digital education and training. ETUCE has been closely following the development of these files, presenting key demands in its position and amendments. Highlights of the adopted Council Recommendations from an education trade union perspective are:

Not only skills. The Education Ministries of the EU moved towards a more comprehensive approach of "competences", in addition to the concept of "skills" originally presented in the EU Commission's proposal.

  • Setting or reviewing national objectives for the provision of these skills and competences.
  • Reduce the gender gap in STEAM studies and careers, by promoting a gender-responsive teaching of digital skills.
  • Strengthen transversal digital skills and competences in primary and secondary education.

In this respect, ETUCE emphasises that the primary goal of education is not mere skills development but enabling the full development of all persons to participate effectively in society. Upcoming EU initiatives on digital skills include:

A need-based approach to digital technologies. The Recommendations adopt a balanced approach considering “both the opportunities and the risks presented by the use of digital devices in education” in line with children's social and intellectual development. Besides, the Ministries of Education encourage the adoption of a needs-based approach, tailored to teaching and learning needs, “when this could be of added value, in an age-appropriate way”. The texts further call for a safe use of digital technologies, “taking into account the risk of overuse and misuse of digital technologies”. Upcoming EU initiatives in this dimension are:

  • Supporting further research into the impact of artificial intelligence.
  • Conducting every 3 years a “Digital Education in Europe” survey in the Member States to build comparative data on the enabling factors for digital education.

Teacher support versus risks of de-professionalisation. ETUCE welcomes the commitment to support teachers by taking adequate measures to support them in integrating digital technologies into their pedagogy. Additionally, Education Ministers call for ensuring access to technical and pedagogical digital support services and training to help teachers and students. The recommendations further call for empowering teachers “by involving them in the decision-making process on the integration of digital equipment into teaching and learning and on the selection, development and assessment of digital education content”.

With the aim to support teachers, the EU will develop:

  • Courses on digital pedagogy for initial teacher education and continuous professional development.
  • Guidelines and quality requirements for digital education content and virtual learning.
  • Guidelines for teachers in informatics and computational thinking.

Nevertheless, ETUCE is concerned that by encouraging flexible upskilling models such as online training and short courses leading to micro-credentials, the Recommendations promote a de-professionalisation of the teaching profession to the detriment of national quality and up-to-date initial education and continuous professional development

Privatisation of education: While rightly calling for investment in connectivity, digital infrastructure and digital accessibility in education, the Recommendations fall short of preserving the public value of education by repeatedly supporting public-private partnerships and promoting a business-like, cost-effective approach in the education sector. ETUCE remarks that this approach leans towards the commercialisation of education, disregarding the value of education as a human right and a public good.    

What is next? Following their adoption, the twin Recommendations will be implemented on a voluntary basis by member states under the steer of the High-Level Group on Education and Training and the support of EU expert groups. The implementation progress of the Recommendations is expected to be reported to the Council of the EU in five years at the latest. ETUCE will keep monitoring the implementation of the recommendation closely and advocate for the EU and member states to ensure that the implementation of the Recommendations is done through meaningful consultation and social dialogue with education trade unions