Drawn up for the Seville European Council, the report adopted by the European Commission and under the responsibility of Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Education and Culture, proposes that by the end of 2006 each of the 150 000 secondary schools in the European Union concludes an Internet twinning agreement with one or more schools in other Member States, or even in third countries as part of the dialogue between cultures.
This will enable each young European to participate in an educative project via the Internet during their schooling. Achievement of this aim requires, in particular, a training drive for teachers and putting in place support services for such twinning partnerships. As some of the possible topics, the Commission suggests in particular language learning, cultural exchanges, European citizenship or environmental education.
“Use of the new communication technologies at school, development of digital literacy and joint modernisation of our education systems have become European Union priorities, and they regularly feature on the agenda of European Councils. By proposing a scheme to generalise Internet school twinning, as asked to do by the Barcelona European Council, the Commission is making a new contribution to ensuring that our European economies and societies make a successful transition to the knowledge economy, especially in the education field”, Viviane Reding has said, adding that her “policy priorities include the adoption in the coming months of an eLearning programme which will play a major role in helping such twinning links to take off.” Although thousands of partnerships already exist between schools in the European Union, often involving the use of the new communication technologies (joint Internet sites, email, etc.), they are not yet systematic in nature and do not always involve educational projects. The Commission's report proposes that an overarching framework be set up to ensure that during their time at secondary school every young European has a chance to participate in an educational project via the Internet with pupils at other schools in Europe, provided their teachers agree.
The Commission identifies the following conditions as being necessary for generalising twinning on a sound basis, thereby enabling the development of joint materials and projects plus regular exchanges under such projects:
The competent public authorities in all Member States should achieve the aim of having an Internet-connected PC for every 15 pupils by the end of 2003.
The same public authorities should provide an annual budget for future twinning partnerships of from €1 500 to €10 000 per secondary school depending on how ambitious the aims of the partnerships are. This budget should in particular cover the cost of visits by teachers and pupils, equipment maintenance and communications.
Training courses need to be provided for secondary school teachers everywhere, not just to show them how to use the Internet and the associated hardware, but also, and above all, so they can learn how to incorporate the Internet and European twinning schemes into their teaching approaches.
Structures will have to be set up at the appropriate levels to advise and assist schools, in particular school heads, on how to set about arranging European twinning partnerships, including possible twinning models, exchange of best practice, how to find partners, on-line help, information on knowledge sources and translation aids. The Commission already supports the “European Schoolnet” project, a network of 24 Education Ministers which has led to the creation of an educational portal for schools in Europe (http://www.eun.org/eun.org2/eun/en/index_eun.html). In the past few years it has also launched a number of initiatives to show schools how the Internet can be used for educational purposes, e.g. the Netd@ys, which bring together schools to work on projects for one week every year (from 18 to 24 November 2002 the topic will be education in the visual image), something that often leads to new and lasting twinning partnerships; and eSchola Week, which makes use of the new technologies to highlight best teaching practices.
Drawing on this experience, and against the backcloth of its future eLearning programme, the Commission will be in a position to help generalise Internet twinning, in particular through setting up contact centres and via the exchange of best practices. During the period the eLearning programme is in the process of being adopted, the Commission intends to undertake preparatory activities to pave the way for generalisation of Internet school twinning links by 2006, while the existing Community programmes (Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci) will continue to provide support for projects on virtual mobility and development of innovative teaching methods.