“Home schooling during lockdown highlighted just how far we are lagging behind when it comes to digitalization,” says Roland Dathe, project manager for a Germany-wide study conducted by the D21 Initiative. Among the top performers in Europe are countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Finland, and Estonia.
“Your lessons at school are lessons for life,” or so teachers in Germany have been telling their students for generations. But in an ever more digital world, this is proving increasingly difficult to deliver. Only 32 percent of Germans believe that schools are providing the skills that young people need in the 21st century. Cutting-edge technology and digital learning methods in German classrooms are, unfortunately, still very much an exception rather than the norm.
“The German education system is seriously lagging behind when it comes to digitalization. Some schools currently do not even have internet access,” says Dathe, who identifies major shortcomings with regard to digitalization in the annual D21 Digital Index .
“Currently, there is no proper strategy. School principals and teachers are under pressure to develop individual media concepts for their schools and to decide which hardware and software is required to implement these,” adds Dathe. “But how are they supposed to have the skills to do that?” However, there is also some cause for optimism. Dathe concludes that the findings of the study reveal light at the end of the tunnel. Over the coming years, the situation could improve significantly. But it is also indisputable that “the infrastructure merely provides the necessary foundations on which to build. Ultimately, it takes much more than computers, tablets, and smartphones to set up a functioning digital school.”
It is now essential to enhance lessons with fit-for-purpose educational concepts that promote digital literacy and meet the various requirements of students, teachers, and parents. Digital education must be enshrined in the curriculum, and teachers need training and continuing professional development.
A lack of funding is not the issue. The German government is making €5 billion available as part of the DigitalPakt Schule initiative established in 2019, with the federal states contributing a further €500 million. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a further €1 billion has been added.
This funding is urgently needed. One of the aspects examined by the School Barometer published by the University of Teacher Education in Zug, Switzerland, in May 2020 was the digital equipment available at schools in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. According to data from public authorities, Switzerland and Austria are supporting digital education with significantly more funding and technical equipment than Germany. The statement ‘The school has sufficient technical capabilities to support web-based formats’ was classified as ‘true’ or ‘mostly true’ by 57 percent of the surveyed school staff in Switzerland. The same response was given by 54 percent of school staff in Austria, but only 24 percent in Germany. These findings match those of a recent study conducted by BearingPoint, which found that Switzerland ranks top in Europe in terms of investment in education with 7.5 percent of GDP.
Returning the focus to Germany, the BearingPoint study concluded that “the coronavirus pandemic had brought to light serious shortcomings in the field of digital education”. More than two-thirds of teachers admitted to having difficulties working with digital teaching formats. The study also found the digital literacy of students in Germany to be merely average in comparison with their international peers. Estonia, the Netherlands, and Finland are the top performers in this respect. Lack of equipment is regarded as the biggest impediment. “Surveys suggest that in 2021, fewer than one in five schools in Germany can provide all members of teaching staff with a digital end device.” Reliable support and stable access to digital media are by no means a given in schools either.
Based on all of these factors, the D21 Initiative concludes that “we have to view the pressure exerted by coronavirus as an opportunity to reorganize education in Germany. As the fourth-largest industrialized economy in the world, we cannot afford to run our schools at the same level as 20 or 30 years ago.”
D21 also emphasizes that new, flexible procurement concepts need to be considered in the context of digital education. That too is an investment in the future. And CHG-MERIDIAN is more than happy to support the initiative with its expertise in this area.
Account manager Claus-Peter Wien has delivered a number of school projects, most recently in the district of Cloppenburg in Germany. “Our focus is very much on customized solutions that take account of the schools’ different requirements and deliver exactly what each school needs.” One factor that gives CHG-MERIDIAN a real edge is its independence from individual manufacturers or banks: “This allows us to always tailor the usage model to each school’s needs and capabilities,” explains Wien.
In practice, this also means reducing cost and effort. “In addition to the purchase price of IT equipment, additional time and money need to be expended on equipment lifecycle services. That includes, for example, hardware maintenance and support as well as certified data erasure at the end of the usage period. Losing sight of additional costs arising at the end of the usage period is a particularly common pitfall,” says Wien. “Innovative, customized IT concepts that convert high procurement costs into steady, easily plannable monthly installments can help with this. Another plus point is that CHG-MERIDIAN remarkets refurbished assets in the resale market. We take account of this option in our calculation. This unlocks additional cost savings and allows schools to improve their environmental footprint at the same time. It is even possible to choose a completely carbon-neutral procurement solution for IT equipment.”