Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland

At the opening session of the 14th International Conference on Technology and Education, the Prime Minister of Norway, Thorbjorn Jagland, welcomed delegates and officially opened the Conference.

The text of the Prime Minister's remarks follows:

14th International Conference on Technology and Education

University of Oslo, 10 August, 1997

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to Norway and welcome to Oslo. It is a pleasure and honour for us to host this conference on a topic so closely linked to the future.

Let me begin by saying that I find the theme of this conference both intriguing and fascinating. On the one hand there is education - the most permanent feature of a civilized society. On the other hand there is technology - the most changing feature of our times. Your challenge is to make to the two fit together.

That is no small task. We know that in ten years from now more than 80 per cent of today's technology in use will have been phased out. At the same time about 75 per cent of today's labour force will still be active. So what we know for sure - in these changing times - is that we all will have to continue learning and update our knowledge base. Technology will be faced out. People will not.

The challenge may look simple: How do we take advantage of technological progress in the educational sector? That is to a large extent a technical question. Allow me for a moment to apply a political perspective.

As I see it - education is culture. Not only for the part of the population assigned to the school age - but to all of us - at all stages of life. A population's ability, readiness and hunger for learning will determine its future.

A culture must be rooted in values. Technology cannot change that. As we entered this century, Norway was among the poorest countries in Europe. Since then, this society has gone through remarkable changes. There has been industrialization and there has been technological advances. But if there is one single driving force behind this progress it is a continued string of educational reforms.

It began early in the century by gradually making primary education available for all. The process of reform has been continued and broadened until this very day. The major social reforms in the 1990's have come in the educational sector. Everybody now has the right to three years of secondary education. The compulsory primary education has been extended from nine to ten years.

Social democracy has one basic approach to education: equal access. We apply the same approach to the new technology: equal access.

This culture of fair distribution and equal access has been a key features of educational reforms in my country. We strive for an age of achievement in which all of the people, not just the few, can share. For all the people. That is the challenge of the twenty-first century.

That principle of equal rights is even more important in times of rapid technological changes. If we set that principle aside, we send a green light to new divisions between people - division that will no longer go between "the haves and the have nots", but rather between "the cans and the cannots".

The knowledge based technologies have the potential to reduce differences between people - if we take particular care to make technology as well as knowledge available to all.

That is why we are facing both an upside and a down side potential. If we embark on a path where there are growing differences and the winners take all, I believe competitiveness for industry will be reduced. And society as a whole will loose.

If we succeed to bring all groups in society along, we have the option to provide people with new opportunities for a richer and more meaningful life. Our ambition is to aim for the best education, the best jobs and the best skills available for all.

Education must take full advantage of technology. Learning in the world of the World Wide Web is more than listening to the teacher from the rostrum - although that can be quite useful at times. But the whole process of both learning and teaching is changing.

New technologies is nothing new to educators. Thomas Alva Edison expected that the use of film in schools would make the text book superfluous. Then a lot of people expected that TV would change our learning pattern. Some people even dreamt of creating learning machines to make learning and teaching more efficient.

None of these predictions have been fulfilled, at least not in the expected way. But technological advances have changed both the way we teach and the way we learn. Young people today enter school with a totally different concept of the world compared to what was the case only ten-fifteen years ago. It will be a challenge for educators to understand the consequences of these changes, and to develop the concepts of education to fit the reality of the next century.

School administrators, policy makers and teachers must enter a landscape of teaching and learning where students will have very easy access to much more knowledge than one single teacher could ever hold.

I remember a story of a teacher who asked his class a question on how life of earth had started. At the back of the room there was a young fellow who gave a detailed answer. It went far beyond the chapter in the text book. The teacher was stunned and asked the boy where he had learned all that. His answer was simple; from the back of the Corn Flakes box.

It is no easy task for a middle aged teacher to teach a class of 12 year old children how to get access to the Internet. Many of the children are already experts at that age. So many teachers do the only right thing; they change the roles by letting the children do the teaching.

You are here to devise more sophisticated procedures to make technological and educational ends meet. The Government for it's part should provide the right conditions. We need cables for free. Connections at low cost. And hardware available for all.

I believe in a simple vision as we head into the next century: All 7 year old children should be able to read. All 12 year old children should have access to a PC. All 19 year old youth should have access to first class higher education and all people between 30 and 80 years old should have the opportunity to develop, renew and refine their knowledge base.

For this to happen we need to protect and encourage the culture of education. Then - and only then - can we turn to the technological opportunities. We know only parts of the potential. If the present growth rates continue, every man on earth will be connected to the Internet in the year of 2003. We know that will not happen. But it illustrates the scope of the technological revolution that we now experience.

Norway's ambition is to be in the forefront of information technology. We will benefit from innovations in other countries. But we will encourage our own industry to contribute to the process in a way that is familiar with our values and choice of societies. Norway is a sparsely populated country. Information and communication technologies help shorten these distances.

We have already come far. Norway has the highest rate of investment in the field of communications and information technology pr capita or in relation to GDP.

We used to have the highest telephone prices in the world. Now the prices are among the lowest. Finnmark in the high North was the first county to get a fully digitalized telecommunications network. In a few months, the entire Norwegian network will reach the same standard.

The infrastructure is getting ready. Let us take advantage of it. But let us also maintain a critical eye on the process. A vital task for educators - and probably among the most difficult ones - will be to shape a critical and selective attitude. It is vital that our young people can distinguish good from bad in the flow of information.

What really matters is the material that comes down those cables, into those computers and into the mind of the child. We can hardly regulate the flow of information by law. The key factor will be our own critical sense. In the shaping of that sense, schools and universities and all our talented educators will play a crucial role.

I said that our task was to make technology available for all. There is one particular dimension to this. The use of computers has too often become a play tool for boys. In many countries girls are nearly absent in the computing classes at the universities. We need the girls there. We need women to contribute with their intellect, their knowledge and experiences.

Our challenge today is to se how we can expand the educational meal and invite all generations to the table. The next major reform will be in life-long learning. We need to strengthen the knowledge base in the companies - and at the same time provide each man and woman with a more interesting and stimulating job.

We will conceive, develop and finance this reform jointly between the social partners and the government. It will be a long process of historic dimensions. The first steps will be introduced at next year's main round of negotiations between the social partners.

I see this conference as a welcome contribution to the whole range of our efforts to develop our most important natural resource - the human resource. We need it in our country. You need it in your countries.

You all represent an amazing well of experience, expertise and knowledge. The conference program also reflects this wide diversity of know-how.

I wish you the best of luck.


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