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The Digital Agenda, Digital Transport and Digital Education – Looking to the Future

James Mulhall

In this, the final month of our country’s term holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU, we welcomed foreign diplomats to Dublin Castle for a discussion on all things technology – technology in education, technology in transport and, of course, Europe 2020’s Digital Agenda initiative.  It was certainly refreshing to see some older politicians discuss issues of adaptation rather than tradition.  Many delegates and speakers were in attendance from across Europe and discussions took place on three topics, allowing those present to compare systems and learn from each other.

Session 1: Rethinking Education for a Digital Age

Ireland’s Education Minister, Ruairí Quinn, opened the first session with comments on how the Irish education system has been modified to keep abreast of technological developments.  Speaking of the much-debated reforms in education and outlining some of the proposed changes to the education system, he said “You cannot embark on reform in the 21st century without due regard to technological and digital developments”.  His comments were well received and he acknowledged that, although Ireland is behind others when it comes to technological advances, we will be making every effort to catch up with our counterparts.  Through the introduction of e-portfolios into the Junior Certificate cycle, for example, Ireland’s secondary education system will be getting a much needed upgrade, aligning it with our third-level system and thereby making the transition easier for young people furthering their education.

The challenges ahead of the European Union in rethinking education for a digital age were further hammered home by another speaker on the topic, Jan Truszczynski, Director General for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, at the European Commission.  Mr Truszczynski emphasised the current and very new challenge faced by European leaders: to focus on the right skills in education, and update the teaching of these skills on a regular basis.

Minister Quinn combined tradition and modernisation in his speech, repeatedly comparing the Digital Age to the Gutenberg Moment, when Johannes Gutenberg introduced printing to Europe in the mid fifteenth century.

So far, so good.  However, with great power comes great responsibility, and one subject which was touched upon in this regard on the day is cyber bullying, an issue with which all involved in education are currently coming to grips.

Session 2: The Smart Move – Progress Towards Intelligent Transport Systems

In the second session of the day, the topic up for discussion was combining transport systems and technology.  Olivier Onidi, Director of Innovative and Sustainable Mobility at the European Commisson; Gerry Murphy Chief Executive of the National Transport Authority; and Brian Brennan Managing Director of Transdev Ireland, operators of the Luas, addressed delegates on the subject.  The transport industry in Ireland and abroad is already embracing change with Wifi being introduced on most major bus and rail services, and even in aviation.

Dublin’s Leap Card was a major focus of Gerry Murphy’s speech.  The system allows users to have just one card to allow them to travel across platforms including Bus Éireann, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus and Luas.  Mr Murphy also talked about implementing the same system in other cities around the country.  Taxi transport also featured in discussions.  The use of apps such as ‘Hailo’ has allowed customers to feel safer in their choice of taxi.  Any drivers registered with the app have been subject to rigorous background checks, leaving customers secure in the knowledge that their driver is trustworthy and that the company is aware of the pick-up.

Session 3: The Digital Agenda Towards 2020

The EU’s Digital Agenda was introduced in 2010 as part of its Europe 2020 growth strategy.  Looking to the future of the policy, the speakers reiterated their faith in the utilisation of technology to help the EU prosper once again.  Lord David Puttnam, Ireland’s Digital Champion, spoke at length about his firm belief in technology, saying that Ireland has been “quite literally transformed in the past twenty years or so”.  Though mainly positive about the technological advances in Europe, Lord Puttnam also emphasised the vast differences in the rate of evolution between Asia and Europe, saying this is an issue that must be tackled.  One particular difference he spoke of was the simple issue of broadband speeds in Singapore and South Korea which outstrip most European capitals.

As these challenges and rewards of technology become apparent across the continent, the EU is working to catch up on its counterparts sooner rather than later.  As Lord Puttnam stated, in 2015 nine out of every ten jobs will require full competency in e-skills, meaning embracing technological evolution is essential to pull the union out of recession and make it an economically prosperous region once again.  To achieve these goals, we all simply have to work harder to push the Digital Agenda.


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