Blackboard and chalk instead of laptop and teaching app – the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how unprepared Germany’s schools are for the digital age. This is mainly due to the complexity of establishing digital structures that require custom solutions. CHG-MERIDIAN is already supporting some pilot schools with their digitalization.
Being online and connected is the norm for youngsters these days, but cutting-edge technology and digital learning are still a rarity in the classroom. This despite the fact that schools are supposed to prepare young people for everyday life – which in Germany is becoming increasingly digitalized. While people generally have a positive attitude towards digital progress, their expectations of the education system are not being met: only 36 percent believe that schools are providing the skills young people need in the 21st century. Which means that the vast majority do not.
“We have a good education system in Germany, but in comparison with other countries, we are lagging behind in our digital transformation. The internet has been around since the 1990s, so the fact that even today not all schools are connected to the internet highlights how big the failings are when it comes to digitalization.”
The school ecosystem has many facets, not least because of the diversity of those involved in the system. Digital concepts for education are designed to enhance lessons, promote digital literacy, and meet the various requirements of pupils, teachers, and parents. But more needs to be done to teach digital skills in practice: digital education must be enshrined in curricula and exam regulations, teachers need training and continuing professional development, and schools need the right IT equipment and infrastructure. There is no lack of money at present. 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.
However, to receive funding each school needs a media development plan outlining the educational and technical concept. This is where local authorities come into play. It is part of their responsibility to ensure that the technical equipment is available, and to shoulder part of the financial burden. Development and coordination are time-intensive processes, and schools have to manage them in addition to their educational tasks. These processes were kicked off in 2019, i.e. before coronavirus, in response to the question of how digital technology can be used to helpfully complement in-class lessons.
“The coronavirus pandemic has turned our plans upside down. The ‘DigitalPakt’ and home schooling are as different as sneakers and walking boots. Yes, you can cross the road in either pair, so there are synergies in that respect. But they are based on totally different approaches that go in opposite directions.”
The “DigitalPakt” stipulates that only 20 percent of the funding may be used to purchase mobile devices. That makes sense for in-class lessons, but it is counter-productive for home schooling. During lockdown, all pupils and teachers need a laptop or tablet. While it is usually not a problem to get office-based employees set up to work from home, schools lack the hardware and digital infrastructure.
The often-cited effect of the coronavirus pandemic acting as a catalyst for digitalization is yet to materialize in schools. This is mainly due to existing processes, which is evident even in such a progressive municipality as Bad Rappenau. With the support of CHG-MERIDIAN, the town had already turned a school with around 900 pupils into a flagship project for cutting-edge educational IT in 2014, based on a customized IT concept. The municipality includes several outlying areas with a total of ten schools, for which the council has passed a comprehensive “DigitalPakt” concept in the region of €1 million. The problem is that equipping the eight primary schools with 600 iPads alone exceeds the budget ceiling for mobile devices. To make full use of the funding, the city is investing the money in data lines, Wi-Fi access points, and hardware such as servers and monitors for frontal instruction. The city will provide the money for the bulk of the mobile devices itself. This is possible thanks to IT leasing, an innovative approach to financing which Baden-Württemberg, in contrast to other German states, has excluded from the DigitalPakt.
“We have to view the pressure exerted by coronavirus as an opportunity to reorganize education in Germany. As the fourth-largest industrial nation, we cannot afford to run our schools at the same level as 20 or 30 years ago. We need to discuss and establish new procurement concepts that take the lifecycle of the equipment into account. That too is an investment in the future.”
The advantages of a customized IT concept that covers the entire lifecycle are well-known in Bad Rappenau from the IT project at its flagship school. From the outset, CHG-MERIDIAN managed equipment procurement, taking an inventory of it, making it ready for use, and delivering it. Thanks to an asset management system, the city has a transparent overview of the number of devices and the associated lease terms, costs, and other information. This helps with annual financial planning and budgeting. For the municipality, this concept is also cheaper than buying equipment because the monthly instalments are reduced based on the assets’ residual value. At the end of the contract, the local authority can simply pull the plug and hand back all the devices. CHG-MERIDIAN deletes any remaining data in line with data protection regulations and prepares the assets for resale. This also has an environmental benefit because used assets no longer end up as electronic waste. Instead, they are refurbished for a second lifecycle.
The digital revolution is changing the face of education. Writing materials and blackboards are being replaced by web-enabled devices and educational software. For Germany’s schools, this means significant investment and a lot of time spent on IT matters.