Education System

Digital literacy does not come for free: Five demands from educational practice.

The so-called “Digital Pact” has been haunting the political and media debates for some time now. A total of 5 billion euros were promised for equipping schools, but its implementation remains unclear. The promotion of digital literacy and open education would be more important than ever.

In the coalition agreement, the CDU/CSU and SPD agreed that the federal government would spend 3.5 billion euros on education during this legislative period. However, the timetable is difficult to implement: Before the “investment offensive” can begin, the Basic Law must be amended to allow the federal government to provide any financial support to municipalities. The federal and state governments have also not yet agreed on the terms of the award. After the experience with the BaföG funds, the Federal Government seems to lack confidence in the Länder: The federal government is pressing for a “National Education Council” to be set up alongside the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in order to ensure greater quality and comparability in education. There is controversy about its composition as well as about the question of whether the Länder will co-finance the Digital Pact from their own resources.

The tiresome Black Peter game between the Federal Government and the Länder is in stark contrast to the challenges facing our education system. For anyone who wants a democratic society in which everyone can participate must achieve digital literacy as a learning goal. This does not only mean technical competence in the sense of the use of digital media. Rather, it is about the much more comprehensive ability to understand, question and help shape the way our increasingly digitised society functions.

Within the framework of the first Forum Open Education of the Alliance for Free Education, we discussed with educational initiatives and teachers how digital literacy and free access for all can be achieved. We consider these five demands to be central:

More money for education

Our education system is chronically underfunded. If Germany were to spend as much on education as the other EU member states on average, it would have to invest 30 billion euros more annually. Against this backdrop, the Digital Pact is only a trifle. At schools, the underfunding is evident in too large classes and too little time. Many teachers regularly stand in front of a class of 30 or more pupils. In addition, there are new challenges posed by topics such as inclusive education, the integration of children from a migrant background and digitisation. In practice, this often means excessive demands. There is therefore no room to conceive and tread new paths – such as project learning or a more open subject structure. But that would be precisely the prerequisite for giving pupils digital literacy in the form outlined above.

Better education and expansion of further education

Teachers are challenged in two ways in digitisation: On the one hand as a model for digital maturity, on the other hand in the design of contemporary didactics in teaching. With today’s teacher training, teachers are not adequately prepared for either of them. A role model function cannot be fulfilled on this basis. In schools, for example, lists of passwords are often displayed openly or students’ data is communicated unencrypted. On the other hand, the role of teachers in digitisation is often not accepted. There is hardly any reflection on didactic approaches. Instead, one smartphone ban follows another in schools. Prohibition is simpler than design, seems to be the motto. A better education and training of teachers is the first prerequisite for digital competences to be practically exemplified in schools in an exemplary manner. Digitisation should first be recognised and addressed as an educational, not a technical issue.

On-site technical support

Wherever technology finds its way into schools, teachers and learners are often determined by others. For example, they receive tablets with pre-installed apps or smartboards that nobody can use for the time being. This development is the logical consequence of a lack of skills. They do not dare to create their own design. Corporations and lobbyists have an easy job in this situation. Because then one prefers to use the supposedly simple, but at least ‘finished’ delivered products. Our guiding principle, on the other hand, is digital sovereignty. Schools must be able to select, configure and design their own technology. This task cannot be imposed on teachers alone. They need on-site tech.

Strategy with effect: Open by default

Open Educational Resources (OER) support the digital literacy of learners. With their opportunities for further processing and re-use, they encourage teachers and learners to work together, exchange ideas and help shape the future. The previous funding programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has succeeded in achieving an initial dissemination to schools. However, this must not be halted, but the announced OER strategy must be effectively implemented. The public sector in particular should set an example. The principle must apply here: What is publicly financed must also be openly licensed.

If one looks at the panel discussion on the evening of the Forum Open Education, it becomes more than clear that there is still a long way to go before these demands are implemented: the Federal Government and the Länder are blocking each other in the dispute over scarce resources and are using the learning objective of digital literacy merely as a rhetorical bubble, but not as a political mandate. It is encouraging that, despite these adverse circumstances, more and more learners and teachers are demanding a fundamentally different education: an education that is contemporary and open; one that recognises digitalisation as a question of design and aims to make everyone responsible. And not only that: despite all the adverse circumstances, more and more people in the education system are also trying to implement at least small improvements themselves. With the Alliance for Free Education, there is a civil society initiative that will continue – together with these more and more active people from educational practice – to exert pressure for good education and digital literacy for all.

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