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Education and training: Basic and digital skills essential for education, work and life

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European Commission published today its annual Education and Training Monitor. The Monitor analyses how education and training is evolving in the EU and its Member States. This year, the 2020 Monitor has a special focus on teaching and learning in the digital age. The coronavirus crisis demonstrated the importance of digital solutions for teaching and learning and highlighted existing weaknesses. The report will be presented during today’s Digital Education Hackathon.

Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, said: “I am delighted that digital education is the lead theme of this year’s Education and Training Monitor, the Commission’s flagship report on education in Europe. We believe it is necessary to bring about deep changes in digital education and we are committed to increasing digital literacy in Europe. Just recently the Commission proposed a package of initiatives, including the new Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027, which will strengthen the contribution of education and training to the EU’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis, and help build a green and digital Europe.”

Despite Member State investment in digital infrastructure for education and training in recent years, large disparities persist, both between and within countries. Contrary to the commonly held view that today’s young people are a generation of ‘digital natives’, survey results indicate that many do not develop sufficient digital skills. Across all surveyed countries, more than 15% of the pupil population have insufficient digital skills. In addition, evidence from the OECD indicates that lower secondary teachers in EU countries only rarely receive training on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for teaching, and that teachers report a strong need for professional development in the use of ICT skills for teaching.

In its annual assessment of how education systems in the European Union are tackling the major challenges in education, the Commission highlights progress in reducing early school leaving, and increasing participation in all education sectors, from early childhood through to tertiary education. The Monitor points out, nonetheless, the persistent challenge of equipping all young people with basic skills. Around one in five 15 year-olds is demonstrating an insufficient level of competence in reading, maths and science, to participate fully in society. Given the impact of socio-economic background on pupils’ performance in basic and digital skills, it is critical to tackle disadvantages in education and training, and to reduce the digital divide among pupils.

Recognising that proper investment in education contributes to economic growth and social inclusion, EU Member States have maintained public spending on education at around 10% of total public spending, according to the Monitor’s most recent data.

Background

The Education and Training Monitor analyses the main challenges for European education systems and presents policies that can make them more responsive to societal and labour market needs. The report comprises a cross-country comparison, with 27 in-depth country reports.

Education remains high on the EU’s political agenda. On 30 September, the Commission adopted two initiatives that will strengthen the contribution of education and training to the EU’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Setting out a vision for a European Education Area to be achieved by 2025, the Commission proposed new initiatives, more investment and stronger Member State cooperation to help all Europeans, of all ages, benefit from the EU’s rich education and training offer. The Commission also adopted a new Digital Education Action Plan, reflecting lessons learned from the coronavirus crisis, and devising a plan for a high-performing digital education ecosystem with enhanced digital competences for the digital transformation.

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War games will take place off Durban between South Africa, China and Russia

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South Africa’s government has finally shown its colours by inviting Russia and China for war games next month, London’s ‘Daily Mail’ writes with indignation and indignation.

SA President Cyril Ramaphosa has ditched his supposed ‘neutrality’ to the war by hosting the naval drills off the country’s east coast near Durban and Richards Bay from February 17 to 27. The move is the strongest indication yet of the strengthening relationship between South Africa, and the anti-West authoritarian regimes of China and Russia.

The drills will take place around the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and bring more focus on the refusal of South Africa – a leading voice on its continent – to side with the West and condemn Russia’s actions. The South African government said last year it had adopted a neutral stance over Ukraine and called for dialogue and diplomacy.

But the upcoming naval drills have led the country’s main opposition party to accuse the government of effectively siding with Russia.

But the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which incorporates all of its armed forces, said next month’s naval exercise would ‘strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China’. The aim of the drills was ‘sharing operational skills and knowledge’, the SANDF said.

The three countries also conducted a similar naval exercise in 2019 in Cape Town, while Russia and China held joint naval drills in the East China Sea last month.

The United States and European Union had hoped South Africa would support the international condemnation of Russia and act as a leader for other nations in Africa. But, South Africa appealed to be one of several African countries to ‘abstain’ in a United Nations vote last year condemning Russia’s special military operation.

South Africa and Russia share a long history, after the Soviet Union gave support to the ANC in its fight to bring down apartheid, the regime of repression against the country’s black majority, writes London newspaper. (And we should remember, how the British destroyed the Boers’ Transvaal and the Orange Republic of the at the beginning of the 20th century, and planted the apartheid regime here).

Apartheid ended in 1994 when the ANC won the first democratic elections in South Africa and Nelson Mandela became president.

South Africa is also a member of BRICS, a bloc of emerging economies, alongside Brazil, Russia, India and China.

South Africa’s obligations with respect to sanctions relate only to those that are specifically adopted by the United Nations. Currently, there are no UN-imposed sanctions on the particular individual, they say in Pretoria.

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Will South Korea build nuclear weapons?

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Washington’s attempt to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are at a dead end. The nation is a nuclear state. Its arsenal is growing in both size and sophistication. Although Pyongyang will never be capable of staging a preemptive strike against the United States, it soon may be able to retaliate against Washington for defending South Korea, writes “Foreign Policy”.

The shifting balance has sparked a serious debate within the United States and South Korea over nuclear policy. The first question is whether it makes sense to pursue denuclearization — the famed CVID (complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement) — when the North already has the bomb. Although official Washington policy resolutely refuses to acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state, reality may eventually force a policy retreat.

Even more significant, the South’s establishment wants to get its hands on, or at least close to, American nuclear weapons. Or, suggested South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Seoul might develop its own. He suggested in a press conference last week that South Korea might develop its own nuclear weapon.

There has been a rolling debate in South Korea for about a year on its potential nuclearization. But that has been mostly limited to extra-governmental voices in think-tanks and academia. So it is genuinely surprising that this has already reached the presidential office.

Indeed, it speaks to just how threatening North Korea’s nuclear weapons are perceived in South Korea – and how unhelpful China has been in restraining Pyongyang – that no less than its president is now discussing this.

The South Korean fear is similar: in a spiraling crisis with North Korea, would its nuclear ICBMs compel the US to ‘slow-roll’ assistance for fear of crossing some retaliation threshold with North Korea? The answer is almost certainly ‘yes’, the author of the military portal ‘19fortyfive.com’ is convinced.

It is inconceivable now, in a nuclearized environment, that the US alliance commitment to South Korea is as automatic as it was in a conventional environment. Any US president will flinch at a course of action which might realistically incur a nuclear strike on US cities.

This new reality, since North Korea’s successful 2017 ICBM test, is only just sinking in. For a few years, it looked like former US President Donald Trump and former South President Moon Jae In might strike a deal with North Korea. That was always pretty far-fetched, but once it definitely fell apart by 2020, a South Korean nuclear debate was likely inevitable.

The debate on nuclearization in South Korea itself is culminating. South Korea public opinion is supportive. Nongovernmental opinion is tilting toward it. The country’s main conservative party has said South Korea should withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty if North Korea tests another, seventh, nuclear weapon. And now the South Korean president has broached the issue too.

The big hurdle then is the Americans. The US is South Korea’s only treaty ally and its core foreign relationship. Without American defense guarantees, South Korea’s defense spending would double or triple. So South Korean governments have traditionally given American preferences wide berth.

And indeed, the American response was to play down Yoon’s comments.

In fact, the North Korean nuclear and missile threat will only worsen as the regime tests more and more, and they certainly are not going to stop. The more North Korea can threaten US cities with massive destruction, the less credible US alliance guarantees will be.

Luckily, this problem is not new. America’s European allies faced it during the Cold War because the USSR could strike the US homeland, and a variety of responses, including nuclear sharing and indigenous nuclearization, were tried with reasonable success. The US has also adapted to Israeli, Indian, and Pakistani nuclearization without a massive crisis.

So South Korean nuclearization need not lead to an alliance rupture unless the US insists on it.

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Jacinda Ardern resigned as New Zealand’s PM or was forcibly ousted from power?

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Jacinda Ardern (photo) has insisted her decision to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister is because she ‘doesn’t have enough in the tank’ – but there is speculation as to whether she is actually running scared of an election mauling following a public outcry over her draconian Covid lockdowns.

Ms Ardern, 42, choked back tears as she announced she will step down after just over five years in power. She insisted her decision to step down had nothing to do with the fact her Labour Party is trailing in the polls behind its conservative rivals from the National Party ahead of the upcoming election in October.

Her policies sparked nationwide protests – one protest against vaccine mandates that began on Parliament’s grounds last year lasted for more than three weeks and ended with protesters hurling rocks at police and setting fires to tents and mattresses as they were forced to leave.

As a result of the public anger over Ms Ardern’s response to Covid – which included a border closure that lasted more than two years – and her domestic policies, she was facing tough reelection prospects. This has prompted speculation that the real reason she decided to quit was because she didn’t want to face a humiliating defeat in the elections.

Ms Ardern continued: ‘I am not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election but because I believe we can and will. But we need a fresh set of shoulders for the challenges of both this year and the next three.’

Ms Ardern’s ratings have also dropped in recent months due to a worsening housing crisis, rising living costs and mortgage rates, and growing concerns about crime.

This has meant that the Labour Party, which has been in power since 2017, lost its consistent lead in the polls early last year.

Ms Ardern was elected just over five years ago on October 26, 2017, and at 37, was New Zealand’s youngest ever PM. Before that, she was the youngest sitting MP in 2008, elected aged 28.

During her resignation speech, Ms Ardern announced the next New Zealand general election will be held on October 14, 2023.

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