Digitization in schools: there is no lack of money

Today the education ministers from the federal and state levels meet in the Chancellery to talk about schools in the Corona crisis. Digitization in particular is not making any headway. Why actually?

By Sandra Stalinski, tagesschau.de

13th grade, advanced biology course at the Max-Beckmann-Oberschule in Berlin-Reinickendorf. Three or four students each share a tablet. DNA replication is on the schedule.

How exactly this works is not easy to understand. Biology teacher Lucas Niemeyer therefore uses an explanatory video. But without text. The students have to write it themselves and then record an audio commentary on the video.

What used to be a bit difficult to figure out using individual graphs is quickly illustrated in the animated graphic video. And by the way, the students also learn how to set a video to music themselves.

40 notebooks, 75 tablets and two computer rooms

Niemeyer uses digital content like this very often in biology classes in high school. A lot can be explained better with it, he says. Although not all classes can use the devices at the same time, a lot can be done with good planning. For almost 1000 students there are around 40 notebooks, 75 tablets, two computer rooms equipped with mobile devices and a larger number of individual devices in each classroom.

This means that the Max Beckmann Oberschule should be roughly in the middle among German schools. The state does not have any data on the digital equipment of schools, so comparisons are difficult. But one provides clues WDR– Survey among 396 municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia. Accordingly, an average of 9.6 students have to share a desktop in NRW. There are even 12.8 people on a tablet. Laptops are the tightest with 30.2 people per device.

Everything was missing during the Corona crisis

Especially in the corona-related lockdown it has been shown that Germany’s schools have a lot of catching up to do on the subject of digitization. There were neither comprehensive devices for digital teaching, nor mature learning platforms or educational concepts. Even at home, many students do not have access to sufficient Internet access and devices with which they can meaningfully participate in homeschooling.

However, there is no lack of money. The DigitalPakt Schule came into force almost a year and a half ago, with the federal government providing the federal states with five billion euros in funding to advance digitization. The countries themselves put another 500 million euros on top. Another billion has been added due to the Corona crisis: 500 million euros of this for mobile devices for homeschooling and 500 million euros for the administration of school computer systems.

Only a fraction of the funds were called up

But so far little of this money has reached schools. As of June 30, just 15.7 million had flowed into the federal states. After one and a half years of the DigitalPact, only a tiny fraction of the funds. After all, another 242 million have already been approved for project applications. But not a single euro has gone to some federal states. According to FDP party vice Katja Suding a “disastrous” interim result, which shows the “lack of ambition of Education Minister Karliczek”.

Why is it all going so slowly? The corona pandemic is apparently partly to blame. Because of the necessary immediate measures in the schools, planning processes for the measures from the DigitalPact School should have been postponed, according to the Ministry of Education. In a way, a paradox: The pandemic in particular showed the urgency of digitization in schools more than ever.

Applications too bureaucratic

Another obstacle that is mentioned again and again: the application modalities for the digital pact are too bureaucratic and complicated. Before money can flow from the DigitalPact, the schools must first submit a “media education concept” to the school authority, in which it is explained what exactly they need and what they plan to do with the money. A legitimate requirement: Because it makes little sense to simply equip schools with equipment pools for whose use there are no educational concepts and for which maintenance may not even be guaranteed. But it takes time for such concepts to be written and approved.

In the Berlin district of Reinickendorf, however, that doesn’t seem to be the problem. There were soon 99 percent of the media concepts, says Brita Tyedmers from the school inspectorate. In Berlin, the greatest obstacle seems to be the lack of broadband access.

Not a single laptop from DigitalPakt funds

Because the funds from the DigitalPact flow in several phases: First, a powerful server has to be found. Structured networking (LAN) and WLAN must then be guaranteed. And only then do funds flow for interactive hardware such as whiteboards, for example, and only at the very end for mobile devices such as laptops and tablets.

That can still take time, as the example of the Max Beckmann Oberschule shows. The school is entitled to 408,000 euros from the DigitalPact. But even though their media concept was in place from the start, not a single laptop from DigitalPakt funds has yet arrived. However, the DigitalPakt was not primarily intended for equipping with devices. A maximum of 25,000 euros are available for each school. A particularly large number of students cannot be catered for with it anyway.

The school got the new server it needed very quickly. Next came a company that examined the technical equipment of the school, says headmaster Matthias Holtmann. “Our cabling is too old, it has to be completely replaced,” says Holtmann. The school benefits from the fact that it invested in WLAN access points on its own years ago, because they can still be used. But currently the network collapses if too many classes access it at the same time. The cabling is simply not enough for a large amount of data. The company has prepared a cost estimate for the school’s networking, which is currently being examined by the district.

Too few companies for network expansion

But Berlin has 900 schools. And there are only a handful of companies that offer this service. In addition, everything has to be tendered in accordance with the complicated European public procurement law. This is another reason why Berlin is clearly lagging behind when it comes to connecting its schools to fast Internet.

But before the connections with the appropriate networking are available in the schools, no devices can be purchased from the DigitalPact. For school principal Holtmann, this is one of the explanations for the fact that the DigitalPact is making so slow progress. He is preparing for the fact that it will be a long time before the Max Beckmann Oberschule has exhausted all the funds it is entitled to. Meanwhile he is busy buying equipment himself. After all, he can decide for himself what to use part of the annual budget.

Corona special funds arrive faster

The additional funds in the Corona crisis also show that there is more movement in this topic than it seems at first glance: 24 needy students from the Max Beckmann Oberschule were given tablets to take at home from special funds from the Berlin Senate. The distribution of further tablets is planned.

The 500 million euro immediate federal funds for school devices in the Corona crisis also seem to be distributed more quickly. The full funds from the program have already been approved for five federal states, as a survey by the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” among the ministries of education shows.

In addition, Berlin and many other countries have already made advance payments to finance IT infrastructure. The statistics of the DigitalPact alone are not necessarily meaningful for the status quo.

After all, one thing is certain: the corona crisis is providing a boost in the digitization of schools. Whether the speed will be enough for Germany’s students to get through this crisis well is open.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version it was said that the WDR had carried out a survey of 4,000 schools. In fact, 396 municipalities were surveyed.

Deutschlandfunk reported on this topic on September 21, 2020 at 7:28 a.m.


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