Challenges for Parents in the Digital Age - conference report

The last EPA conference and GA so far was held in Lisbon on 4th and 5th April 2014. The speakers and participants were dealing with a hot topic, the various aspects of the digital age in connection with families, parents and schools. The few paragraphs below will try to give a very short insight to this very interesting and lively conference. You will also find the presentations of all the speakers with their contact details if you want to work on with these topics.

The conference started with a keynote that offered food for thought for all participants. Pedro Silva, the vice president of the ERNAPE 2013 conference shared his thoughts about the accelerating evolution of economy, culture and methods telling us that we have to reconcile with digital tools much more quickly than any generations had to get used to new things before us. He also shared research data on the effects of the Magellan project, the Portuguese government initiative that offered very cheap or even free laptops to families through schools. Details of his presentation are available here.

During the following roundtable Education in the Digital Era: Risks and Opportunities moderated by Tito Morais was designed as a preface to the workshop with the same title on the following day. Cristina Ponte who offered further research data by EU Kids Online, Fernando Ilharco communication expert and Etelberto Costa, the Vice President of EUCIS-LLL offered their expertise and experiences in this field. 

The keynote session on the second day included four speakers who offered very different but still rhyming points of view. Eva Gyarmathy's keynote introduced the notion of digital natives but pointed out that it does not mean the perfect use of gadgets but a different structure of brain usage that is more suitable for the digital world. She also called the attention of participants to the importance of developing other brain structures together with the children and young people of today. She also introduced the RoboBraille System.

António Teixeira, the president of the European Distance and E-Learning Network offered an overview of the Opening up Education initiative of the European Commission and the new generation of courses available on the internet, the MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and their effect on education institutions and learning. He projected that we will not only live in a network society but our education systems will also become a network in th near future. This is a strategic challenge for the educations systems of Europe and a major change of practices is necessary.

Janice Richardson, senior consultant of the European Schoolnet shared her views on the challenges in parenting resulting from the Digital Agenda and the Opening up Education EC initiatives as well as the digital environment around us. She underlined that information and participation are fundamental human rights for children, but they ask for support from parents and teachers. When talking about the InSafe Project she emphasised the shared responsibility of users, providers and educators in creating safety in the digital world.

The last keynote by António Bob Santos introduced international participants the details of the e.escolinha and Magellan projects of the Portuguese government. Although the programmes fell victim of the economic crisis their impact on the society by offering a family computer and cheap internet to families even with low income can still be felt.

The workshops of the afternoon
- dealt with the challenges of entrepreneurship education and the digital age in a world café form moderated by Friederike Sözen from the Austrian Chamber of Commerce
- examined online presence and cyberbullying from a rights of the child point of view moderated by Martin Schmalzried from COFACE 
- followed the topics of the round table moderated by Tito Morais

The conference was sponsored by the Portuguese company WEDUC offering a safe social network option for schools, teachers, parents and children.

Workshop – Digital Skills & Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship was originally about starting a business – now it encompasses taking chances, seeing possibilities and being creative (in the form of thinking out of the box). It is a mind-set, not a fixed taught ability. It is often thought of as a natural talent and hence difficult to teach. Therefore the solution towards developing more entrepreneurs is dependent on nurturing this mind-set and not ruining it within schools. The educational system has to stop intervening with natural creativity.

CONCLUSION: It’s the European goal to make us all more entrepreneurial and that should start early in school. There should be more emphasis on entrepreneurial teaching – providing good examples, combining information techniques, constructing ideas and presentations as well as knowledge and content.

At the market place of the General Assembly several good practices and proposals for member cooperation were presented. Former board member Doreen Camilleri presented a project by the Maltese Ministry of Education on providing school children with tablets for school. Her presentation can be found here.

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