The importance of using multimedia materials as part of the educational process was one of the key messages in the European Union's Year of Lifelong Learning, being launched in Edinburgh yesterday.
Edith Cresson, European commissioner for science, training, youth and education, announced the setting-up of pilot schemes to help pupils and teachers master multimedia techniques which would lead to a network of schools across the community which would share ideas and experiences.
An EU-wide competition will be launched in March on the theme of educational software. The commission is also creating a project which will link up multimedia resource centres in deprived areas so that people of all ages have access to the latest technology.
Mme Cresson said lifelong education could not be confined to the designated year. The commission had made it a long-term priority, based on her white paper on education and training of last November.
This proposed that a system of skill accreditation should be established across Europe bringing together professional and trade sectors, training centres and companies so that people could be credited in a flexible and practical way during their lives without having to take further qualifications.
Personal skill cards could be issued as a valuable complement to conventional certificates, especially if they were awarded a long time ago. The European Banking Federation had already shown an interest in the idea, she said.
The Year of Lifelong Learning, funded by the commission to the tune of Pounds 5.3 million, has stimulated some 700 events and projects.
Its purpose is to make people aware of the importance and need of lifelong learning as a key factor in personal development; to foster co-operation between education, training and business; and to promote the European dimension in education.
In the UK around 30 grants out of 300 applications have been awarded by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, the body co-ordinating events in this country, for a variety of schemes.
Airedale and Wharfedale College in Leeds, for example, was awarded Pounds 3,500 for an innovative community education project with Tetley's, the local brewery. Regulars in five pubs were invited to free "taster" courses to sample a variety of subjects including car maintenance, ordering drinks abroad, letter writing and metric made easy, for a couple of evenings last autumn.
The college has applied for a further grant to start a full range of courses in March as they proved so popular. "We are reaching people who wouldn't dream of walking up the college drive," said Carolyn Walker, one of the lecturers.
The Times Supplements were among sponsors at yesterday's conference, where speakers included James Paice, education and employment minister, and Raymond Robertson, education minister for Scotland.