Berlin Kristina Reiss and Thomas Ogilvie agree: Digitization can be a blessing to better support weaker students individually. Reiss, who is the dean of the School of Education at the Technical University of Munich and who became known throughout Germany for organizing the Pisa studies, and the HR director at Deutsche Post Ogilvie are members of the German Academy of Science and Engineering. You conduct the conversation with the Handelsblatt via video conference.
Schools not only use methods for video chats that have long been common in the private sector: the corona pandemic has accelerated the digitization of schools. But in order for it to actually succeed in the long term, teachers would have to be trained much better, demands Reiss, whose School of Education is considered the best teacher training center in the republic. Digitization training must become mandatory, she therefore demands.
The two personnel experts disagree on the necessary equipment for schools: Reiss demands that the state provide school laptops for all students. Ogilvie thinks this is only necessary for students in need – the other students should use their personal devices.
Read the full interview here
Mr. Ogilvie, as the manager of a global corporation, do you understand that the digitization of our schools is so slow and unprofessional?
Ogilvie: As a father and head of HR, I say: Many teachers have done a great job. In order to advance digitization in schools, we have to use the strengths of federalism. We need a clever combination of freedom on site, the necessary IT equipment and generally binding guidelines. In my opinion, blended learning, i.e. the combination of face-to-face and online teaching, is an important component in future learning environments. But teachers need to be trained even better for this.
Ms. Reiss, you are one of the top teacher trainers in Germany. What’s the biggest problem?
Reiss: So far, digitization has been far too bureaucratic. We are just a nation of doubters who are also skeptical about digitization. We have also pursued the “bring-your-own-device” strategy for far too long, i.e. using devices that the students already have. I am strictly against it, because then teachers have no control over what happens on these devices. So not only do we need laptops to borrow for poorer students, but of course we have to equip all students. Nor is it possible that almost all teachers have to work with their private devices. That would be unthinkable in any company.
That costs significantly more money …
Reiss: Of course. But only then can we use the wonderful digital programs across the board, some of which already worked and motivated us well in lockdown. In Singapore, for example, there are carts full of laptops everywhere that students and teachers can use when needed. We tried it out in a project in Bavaria and everyone was enthusiastic. As with books, this must be taken for granted.
Ogilvie: Yes, teachers need duty laptops, I totally agree. But in my opinion, students should definitely use the devices they already have – whether they are smartphones, tablets or notebooks. It is important that no one is left behind: we have to find solutions for children without laptops, for school and at home.
Why are we lagging so much behind in teacher training?
Reiss: Although advanced training is compulsory in all federal states, the choice of topic is free. With digitization, there should have been compulsory training for a long time. But thanks to Corona, we all understood how useful digital technologies can be and we now have a lot more practice – now advanced training can fall on much more fertile ground. We generally need binding rules on how the further training of teachers continues after the exam.
They claim that schoolchildren not only need equipment, but also “digital maturity”.
Reiss: Yes, pupils also have to learn how to deal critically. You need to know that all data can be recorded – every single touch on a tablet. That it can be measured when they do what and whether they have not touched a device for hours. And they have to learn to distinguish reliable sources from others. This works in every subject, we don’t need a compulsory subject in computer science.
Ogilvie: I also think that digital literacy should be an integral part of every school subject. And it is important to convey logical structures; this is the basis for the digital jobs of today and tomorrow. Digital competence also means conveying democratic competence and maturity in the digital space. This is valuable everyday knowledge, which makes young people less susceptible to filter bubbles and echo rooms.
Swiss Post is a leader in continuing education – what is special about it?
Ogilvie: We have around 550,000 employees in more than 1,000 professions worldwide, from parcel delivery to aircraft mechanics, network planners and financial experts. We want them all to be “certified specialists” who are constantly learning. For this purpose, every employee receives an education pass when they join the company, in which every formal and informal training is confirmed. We want to become even more diverse in the formats in the future and offer a good mix of face-to-face, hybrid and online formats.
What can schools learn from this?
Reiss: In the teacher training program, we were already far with the use of blended learning. Now the huge corona surge came along. The response from the universities has been very positive. Recorded lectures, for example, offer students a huge advantage. But there are still many untapped opportunities in further education.
What would you do as minister of education, Mr Ogilvie?
Ogilvie: Lifelong learning is more than ever the key to success in the digital age. So, in my opinion, the didactics must also develop and learn. Teachers must become facilitators of learning by maintaining and promoting the innate spirit of discovery and enthusiasm for learning. In addition to trying out, discovering and reflecting, we must not neglect the basic skills, i.e. grammar, mathematics and pure facts.
Reiss: Completely correct. There are around 20 percent of students who lack basic skills. There is an urgent need to catch up here, as we have known since the Pisa shock of 2000 – and this is where digital tools offer a tremendous opportunity. Modern software helps to respond much better to individual students and, above all, to practice more specifically. In analogy, a teacher can often do this less well. We must also use the digitization debate to tackle a basic problem facing schools in Germany: that educational success and the chances of digital participation as a whole depend heavily on the social status of the parents. We can afford to leave so many children behind, less than ever.
Ogilvie: Digitization can be a blessing for individualized learning. But only if weaker people also have the necessary equipment.
Swiss Post explicitly relies on a “culture of errors”. Why?
Ogilvie: You have to be able to make mistakes in order to learn how to do it correctly. In our team seminars, we like to let employees build a tower out of straws. It is crucial to try things out together and reflect on what one learns from setbacks. In this way we promote creativity, entrepreneurship and the courage to innovate.
Reiss: In theory, the error culture is extremely important in school too. The ministers of education have also anchored this in the educational standards. In practice, however, it is often not yet ready. For example, I found it shocking that in lockdown the biggest question wasn’t how the school passed on the content – but how the exams were conducted. There is still a lot of room for improvement. In the past, teachers were afraid to discuss mistakes. They thought that then the children would remember the wrong things. This concern is now considered unjustified.
So far, the federal states have hardly cooperated in continuing education for teachers …
Reiss: We need a lot more cooperation and coordinated formats – also because digitization is so expensive. We cannot rely on the school book publishers, there has been far too little in recent years. I recently gave a lecture online for Peruvian teachers, there were 300 colleagues across the country, and there was a very good discussion afterwards. We still use such formats far too little here.
What can the state do to advance lifelong digital learning?
Reiss: Create more targeted opportunities, set up more teaching and learning facilities. To do this, schools, universities and businesses would have to network more closely – these are almost completely separate rooms. Then we also learn better which theory really helps in real life.
When will our universities finally take their continuing education mandate seriously?
Reiss: That is simply a question of money. We at the School of Education at the TU Munich have the knowledge to train teachers – but not always enough staff. Perhaps here, too, digital formats offer more opportunities to use courses.
Ogilvie: Our system still focuses on the first degree, then the learning journey ends. Digital devices are constantly updated – so universities would also have to regularly update the knowledge of their graduates. We urgently need to anchor this conceptually and institutionally.
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