How should students learn for GED

Digital learning : Schools can buy laptop class kits - but not for all students

According to current surveys, 90 to 99 percent of schoolchildren in Germany have a computer with which they can take part in distance learning during the corona crisis. However, because the surveys are online, those children and adolescents who do not have any functioning devices at their disposal, for example because several people in the household share one device, are not recorded.

These disadvantaged schoolchildren are now to get access to digital devices with massive financial support from the federal government. As reported, the grand coalition in the federal government agreed on an immediate program in the amount of 500 million euros at the end of April. It was immediately criticized that 150 euros should be paid out of this pot to low-income families in order to buy tablets or laptops.

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Too little money per device, unclear distribution criteria and spending control: At least these points of criticism were taken into account by the federal and state governments in an agreement on the program presented on Friday. Now the 500 million euros are to be paid out directly to the school authorities, with the 16 countries receiving their shares according to the Königstein key.

[All current developments as a result of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here in our news blog. At this point we will keep you up to date on developments especially in Berlin]

According to this, for example, Berlin gets a 5.1 percent share of 25.6 million euros, Bavaria with 15.5 percent three times as much. Schools are allowed to spend the money on student computers - and on their own equipment in order to be able to create "professional online courses".

"Schools can best judge the criteria according to which the devices should be used," said Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU), explaining the new procedure. They know about the social situation of their students and their families.

"Everyone is on their way"

Children and young people who do not have suitable digital devices and who have so far "been more difficult to reach" for distance learning teachers should be taken into account, said Stefanie Hubig (SPD), President of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) and Minister of Education in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Both ministers praised schools and teachers who had made an "incredible boost" in digital learning since the schools closed in mid-March. "Everyone was on their way," said Hubig. Karliczek also emphasized the role of parents who "have become close companions". At the same time, it is important to prevent "breaks in educational biographies", and the immediate program should contribute to this.

[Also read our latest report on a survey among young people: Don't reduce ourselves to homeschooling.]

It is clear that due to the continued risk of infection and the distance rules after the summer holidays, a mix of distance learning, homeschooling and face-to-face lessons at school will remain for the time being. As long as there are no drugs and no vaccinations against Covid-19, a return to normal school life is out of the question, said Karliczek.

The first tranches of the 500 million euros - plus a ten percent country share, which they have already met through their own tablet, laptop and learning software programs - should be available before the summer holidays if possible. Karliczek expects that the parliamentary procedure in the federal government will take two or three weeks, then the state governments and in some cases also the parliaments have to approve.

Positions for equipment maintenance not from the federal government

The program was agreed as an addition to the digital pact for schools, through which 5.5 billion euros will be invested in the digital infrastructure of schools - 90 percent come from the federal government, ten percent from the states. Karliczek defended the decision made in 2019 to primarily expand the broadband connections and WiFi equipment in schools - and not the devices for the pupils, which have now been approved at a later date.

Class sets with digital devices were only allowed to be bought from this pot by schools that were already well networked. Only the Corona crisis now makes it possible to equip more schools with loan equipment. Stefanie Hubig did not want to see this as a failure, although she had already pleaded for the digital pact to finance positions for equipment maintenance at schools. They are now setting up their country on their own.

Reports on school closings and homeschooling

But is there a risk of a mix of smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs with a wide variety of software that are not compatible with each other? The chairwoman of the German Association of Philologists, Susanne Lin-Klitzing, recently criticized this. Following the announcement of the 500 million euro program, on Friday she again demanded "class rates for loan computers for all pupils" - and official devices as well as work e-mail addresses for the teachers.

It is to be expected from the federal and state governments that these will be ready after the summer holidays as well as "an adequate digital infrastructure with data protection-compliant learning platforms and video conference systems". In the current emergency situation, things may be moving faster than before in many places, but a Tagesspiegel survey in January showed that the digital pact is being implemented only slowly.

GEW: distribute money according to the social index

The Association for Education and Upbringing raised further questions that the federal and state governments failed to clarify in advance: It was unclear who would choose and procure the devices, who would then use them and wait, according to which criteria individual students would receive them and whether they would be are insured. The education and science union demanded that the money be distributed to schools according to a social index.

On the insurance question, Hubig said that the cost of damaged equipment would have to be weighed against potential insurance costs. So far, students in Rhineland-Palatinate have treated loan equipment well. Karliczek said they were talking to SIM card providers to ensure internet access for everyone.

But how do the federal states intend to help pupils pedagogically to catch up on the learning deficit from the time the schools were closed? Teaching is primarily in core subjects and so far not according to country-wide standards. When asked about concepts for the period up to and including the summer vacation time - for example with summer camps, school offers or vouchers for tutoring providers - the KMK president had to pass.

But the KMK is working on a framework concept for the design of lessons in the next school year, said Stefanie Hubig.

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