Friends Of Europe and Google partner to discuss education and skills

Computers, the internet and smartphones are integrated into our daily lives in a way that was unthinkable a few years ago. How can we ensure the next generation have the skills necessary for working in this digital world? Tech smarts aren't an optional extra: the European Commission predicts that by 2020, there will be nearly 900,000 unfilled jobs in Europe because of the digital skills gap.

Friends of Europe and Google teamed up this week to discuss this urgent issue. In Brussels, we brought together experts from around the world including Esther Wojcicki, Vice Chair of Creative Commons and author of ‘Moonshots in Education’, Jos Bertemes, Director at Luxembourg's Ministry of National Education and René Tristan Lydiksen, Managing Director of LEGO Education Europe.

Before speaking with educators, we did our homework. We commissioned research by the Economist Intelligence Unit, titled "Driving The Skills Agenda," which looks into digital skills levels worldwide. (The report definitely gets an A+ grade). They describe how education systems around the world are changing. We kicked off the discussion with the report's author, Irene Mia, telling us about her findings.

The report draws on data from global surveys of senior business executives, teachers and two groups of students, aged 11 to 17 and 18 to 25 -- and is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of education. For example, 51% of executives say a skills gap is hampering their organisational performance and only 34% claim to be satisfied with the level of attainment of young people entering their company.

The research didn’t only look at general skills, but also at digital skills specifically. Teachers know this is an issue -- 85% of teachers say that technological advances have changed the way they teach, but only 27% claim to be very confident in developing digital literacy in their students. Technology could ultimately level the playing field, by giving students access to tools and teaching from around the world and broadening their horizons.

An overview of the ideas discussed at our event, captured by Somang Lee
Of course, experts and policymakers can discuss these issues for hours -- but what really matters is hearing from young people -- in their own words. That's why we invited Google Science Fair European finalists, a global online competition open to young kids interested in science, technology, math and engineering.

Their award-winning projects might one day change the world: Krtin Nithiyanandam, from the UK, has worked on a molecular-level 'Trojan Horse' which can be used as a sensitive method for earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease. His fellow global finalist, Laura Steponavičiūtė from Lithuania has been experimenting with how nanoparticles affect nature. And Matthew Reed is developing a lightweight, cheap open-source satellite standard that will be free for anyone to use and develop.

Google Science Fair finalist Krtin Nithiyanandam and other participants using LEGO to make learning fun

Skills for the future is a topic that’s relevant not only to young people. As a digital company with hundreds of millions of users in the EU, Google is dedicated to ensuring Europeans have world-class digital skills. We're working on everything from giving entrepreneurs the tools they need to set up their own business, to putting Europe's top galleries online so everyone can enjoy their cultural treasures. And all of these projects need digital skills -- which is why it's so important the next generation learn them now.

Posted by: Liz Sproat, Google’s Head of Education for Europe, Middle East and Africa