Digital Education and Smart Cities: Towards an Interconnected Future

The interconnection between the concepts of digital education and smart cities represents a challenge of unquestionable relevance, not only in the current context, but above all in the future.

The interconnection between the concepts of digital education and smart cities represents a challenge of unquestionable relevance, not only in the current context, but above all in the future.

To first provide context, smart cities are those that strategically use Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) with the primary purpose of improving the quality of life of their inhabitants. For example, smart cities use sensors to monitor air quality, optimise traffic and improve public services.

In this scenario, it is extremely important to provide citizens with the necessary tools to actively participate in cities that are expected to become increasingly technological. As stated by the European Union: “virtually all future learning and jobs will require some level of digital skills and abilities. Constant technological change requires the lifelong development of competences and skills by all learners for Europe to remain economically competitive and to participate in social life.”

Digital education is fundamental in this regard. The digital school is characterised as an educational model that integrates digital technology into the teaching and learning process. This concept involves the use of digital devices such as computers, tablets and mobile devices, as well as online resources, educational applications, learning platforms and other technologies, to enrich the learning experience and improve access to knowledge.

Some important relevant initiatives are already being developed in the European context.

The European Union’s Digital Education Action Plan represents an ambitious commitment to promote the integration of digital education in all levels of education across Member States.

This Plan recognises not only the growing relevance of digital technologies in today’s society, but also the need to empower European citizens with the skills and knowledge required to thrive in an increasingly digital world. More specifically, the Plan aims to achieve the following objectives:

-Ensure that all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic background, have access to high-quality digital education;

-Develop the digital skills of students and educators, enabling them to use and critically understand technologies;

-Invest in technological infrastructure in schools, including high-speed internet access and appropriate digital devices;

-Integrate digital education across all curricula, teaching students not only to use digital tools, but also to apply digital skills in various disciplines; and

-Develop methods for assessing and certifying digital skills acquired by students and educators.

At the same time, this Plan represents a significant step towards an inclusive school and prepares citizens to face the challenges of an increasingly technological world.

At the European level, we also highlight the European Digital Education Hub, which was developed as an integral part of the European Union’s Digital Education Action Plan.

The Hub seeks to redress the fragmentation of digital education policies, research, and implementation practices in Europe. To achieve its objectives, the Hub provides a network of National Advisory Services (NAS) for cooperation in the implementation of digital education policies, a Support, Advanced Learning and Training Opportunities (SALTO) resource centre for digital education, and opportunities to promote cross-sectoral collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

It also offers online tools such as the SELFIE on digital skills in education (including the work-based learning module – WBL) and SELFIE for TEACHERS. These tools are managed by the European Commission and are available free of charge in all official EU languages.

In the Portuguese context, the Universalisation of Digital Schooling Programme (“programa de universalização da escola digital”) deserves to be highlighted. It reflects a similar commitment to that of the European Union Action Plan but focuses specifically on the educational reality in Portugal. The main objective of this Programme is the effective integration of information and communication technologies and digital tools into educational practices, both by teachers and students.

It establishes the following goals:

-Provide adequate training to teachers, enabling them to use ICT effectively and innovatively in their pedagogical practice;

-Integrate ICT into the curricula, using digital resources to improve learning and create more engaging and personalised teaching methodologies;

-Ensure that all students have access to the same digital opportunities, avoiding the creation of a “digital divide”;

-Promote more active and collaborative learning approaches, using technologies that encourage students to explore, create and share knowledge; and

-Explore innovative methods of assessing student progress, including online assessments and digital projects.

This Programme expresses a fundamental commitment to the modernisation of the Portuguese educational system, preparing students for an increasingly digital and connected world. As part of this commitment, 1,050,000 laptop computers have already been delivered to students and teachers in Portugal.

Digital education has demonstrated numerous benefits, including the ability to personalise learning according to students’ individual needs, taking advantage of a wide range of resources available online. Smart cities, known for their innovative approach to technology, can provide access to global educational platforms, thus enriching the learning experience.

Furthermore, digital education allows for the creation of collaborative learning environments, equipping students to interact in smart cities that value the co-creation of solutions and citizen participation.

Finally, the digital skills acquired through digital schooling are transferable to smart urban environments, where technology is a constant. This contributes to the formation of informed and capable digital citizens.

However, digital education also faces challenges such as ensuring equal access and avoiding excessive dependence on technology.

For example, in Swedish schools there has been a return to traditional ways of learning, with printed books, reading and handwriting regaining importance. This change has come about in response to questions from politicians and experts about whether the excessive emphasis on technology, including the introduction of tablets in kindergartens, may have led to a decline in basic skills. Despite these questions, the convergence of digital education and smart cities, as long as it is properly balanced, represents a unique opportunity to shape a more connected, efficient and informed future. The action plans outlined above lay the foundations for transforming education and developing citizens capable of navigating a technologically advanced world. By aligning education with the principles of smart cities, we can aspire to a future where technology is a driving force for both individual and collective progress.

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