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Project brings Europe into the classroom via the Internet

It has long been the complaint of many EU citizens that they just do not understand the political processes and decisions taken in Brussels, nor do they feel connected to the debate on the future of Europe. The European Commission has taken a holistic approach to the problem, ...

It has long been the complaint of many EU citizens that they just do not understand the political processes and decisions taken in Brussels, nor do they feel connected to the debate on the future of Europe. The European Commission has taken a holistic approach to the problem, supporting an array of projects including those that tap into new 'digital opportunities' to ensure greater access to information on Europe, as well as public participation in the debates on its future. One such project is the myEUROPE web portal, which aims to help primary and secondary school teachers raise their pupils' awareness of what it means to be a young citizen in Europe through the provision of information communication technologies (ICT)-based classroom activities and resources. Launched in May 2000 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Schuman declaration, the project comprises a 5000-strong network of schools spanning the EU-25, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. According to Petru Dumitru, myEUROPE coordinator, the network has been instrumental, since its inception, in familiarising European schools with the EU. In 2002, it received funding of 300,000 euro from the European Commission, under the EU enlargement action plan, to help coordinate the 2003 edition of the European Spring Day, an event which aims to provide young people with opportunities to learn about and make their voice heard on topical European issues. Since then, it has continued to encourage contacts between teachers and their classes from the older Member States, new Member States and candidate countries, and to involve students in debates on the challenges facing the EU. 'The network has managed to bring the diversity of Europe into the classroom via the Internet,' he told CORDIS News. The number of online tools and resources available to teachers through the myEUROPE portal is as extensive and diverse as the network's membership. They include a range of classroom lesson plans or projects which combine traditional teaching with the modern tools of communication available through the web. Projects may take place over a day, a week, a month, or longer ,on subjects ranging from European citizenship, cultural diversity, European geography and history, science and the environment. As a former teacher from Romania, Mr Dumitru designs many of the online activities himself. An advisory group made up of 24 teachers also contributes to the myEurope web content. 'These lesson plans or projects are kept very simple so that they can easily be adapted to teachers' requirements, needs, expectations and the national curriculum,' he explained. As well as online activities tailored for use in individual classrooms, myEurope also initiates larger, more ambitious initiatives like the Eurodrawing project, which aims to draw a 150 metre-long picture involving as many children from different parts of the EU as possible. The process of drawing is transmitted on the project's web pages via a web camera so that all schools participating in can watch the drawing live. Before the end of the school year - in June 2006 - it is expected that 15 European schools in total will be participating in drawing the picture. 'The project is all about intercommunication,' explained Mr Dumitru. 'Children will exchange information about the city they live in, experience they had with the project, they will make friends and practice the English language.' In addition to designing online activities, myEUROPE also develops what it calls 'learning objects', which are digital modules such as a multimedia or interactive application, an exercise or a simulation built to enable a learner to acquire knowledge and skills on a specific topic or theme. Objects can be used for either collective learning and teaching in the classroom, or for individual learning. One example is a world map which, instead of staying on a wall, can be brought into the classroom via a computer. Learners can interact with it via keyboard or mouse, by rotating it, and zooming in or out. 'These learning objects are not to replace existing books and resources entirely but to make learning more attractive and efficient,' suggested Mr Dumitru. 'In other words, a learning object enriches a classical teaching resource with computer facilities, enabling a certain degree of interactivity.' Currently, myEUROPE is developing a repository with 'learning objects' on European citizenship with teachers in 25 languages in schools from the network. It is hoped that these objects will help teachers prepare lessons on citizenship and civics, or may be used when teaching other school subjects, in a cross-curricular manner, such as language(s), mathematics, social sciences, geography and history. Teachers who make use of the content can share their experiences through roundtables or by submitting an outline of a tried and test idea. 'Teachers are often hesitant about sharing their experiences,' said Mr Dumitru. 'But the network provides a family feeling and when teachers read about others' experiences they are more willing to open up and share their successes and even their failures.' Asked whether the network is working closely with education authorities of Member States to integrate these ICT tools and resources into the curricula, Mr Dumitru said that this is not an easy task given the diverse education programmes in Europe and perhaps not the right direction to take. 'I think that it would be better for myEUROPE's tools to remain complementary to existing curricula,' he said.' After all, what is compulsory is sometimes not liked.' The services and resources available from the myEurope portal are in keeping with the Commission's vision of creating a knowledge based society in which more Europeans will have the opportunity to develop new skills at any age and to any standard. This, says the Commission, will not only improve the competitiveness of EU enterprises and the employability of EU citizens, but will also promote social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development.