Online dialogue on digital learning Harness and develop the impetus bravely

The Chancellor has urged that the ideas for digital learning developed during the pandemic be refined and expanded. It is important to have the courage to take new paths, said Angela Merkel during the online dialogue on digital learning. She spoke with teachers, start-up entrepreneurs and experts about innovative approaches to digital education.


Digital learning

Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed digital learning on Tuesday during an online dialogue.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Faster progress on digitalisation of schools, better networking of teachers and more effective use of examples of best practices in digital learning – Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to drive forward digital learning and teaching. The pandemic has made it very clear where there are still difficulties. All the more reason for the Chancellor to find out more during the online dialogue about innovative ideas and positive experience. “It is exciting to see what there is on the market,” stressed Angela Merkel.

Harnessing the creativity that has emerged

Federal Minister of Education Anja Karliczek pointed out that a great deal of creativity has emerged in schools during the pandemic. “And that is exactly what we now need to maintain.” In particular, a “nationwide effort” is needed to ensure that children are not set back by the pandemic, said Anja Karliczek.        

Federal Minister of Education Anja Karliczek and Minister of State for Digitalisation Dorothee Bär attended the online dialogue on the government side. Five teachers and innovators also took part, who presented their creative ideas for digital learning. Other discussion participants included Verena Pausder from “Digitale Bildung für alle” (digital education for all initiative), Birgit Eickelmann, Professor of Education at the University of Paderborn and Ada Pellert, Rector of the Fernuniversität Hagen, Germany’s only state distance learning university   

In-service teacher training

Teacher and media education specialist Verena Knoblauch made it clear during the virtual dialogue that she is convinced that the majority of teachers are motivated to break new ground in the field of digital learning. At the start of the pandemic, many of them set things up overnight without being experts in digital lessons. In-service training for teachers is important – particularly after the pandemic, she stressed.

From textbooks to learning platforms

Kai Schmidt, head teacher and maths teacher from Lower Saxony, by contrast, has been an digital learning expert for years. Under the name “Lehrerschmidt” he has his own YouTube channel where he posts learning videos to communicate the contents of the curriculum. “I see learning videos as one tool among many others,” he stressed. Overall, he said, he would like to see textbooks developed to digital individual learning platforms.

When asked by the Chancellor whether he had to ask his superior for permission before launching his YouTube channel, Kai Schmidt’s answer was a clear ‘Yes’. He stressed, however, that this had not been a problem.

“We need greater clarity for action”

One focus of the online dialogue looked at ways of using the scope available and bravely taking new paths within the school system. Many teachers however are afraid of making mistakes, reported Anika Buche. She is a teacher and founder of a social action group that provides schools with a sort of blueprint for concepts and tools they can use in digital teaching. “Schools need greater autonomy and they need a secure framework within which they can take action,” she is convinced. If this were in place, she is sure more teachers would translate innovative ideas into action.

The Chancellor praised the work of many teachers who are already implementing creative digital learning solutions. And she encouraged teachers to be brave and strike out along new paths.

Angela Merkel calls for greater speed

Angela Merkel herself picked up on one topic which is seen as a burning issue by many people with regard to digitalisation of schools – the speed of progress, which is often held to be too slow. Germany needs to speed up significantly, said the Chancellor, if it is not to be left behind in the digital era. This also applies to administrative actions. It cannot be that it takes so long, for instance, to procure enough tablet computers.

Angela Merkel was referring here to administrative agreements that the federal government had to enter into with all 16 Länder or federal states. Federal Minister of Education Anja Karliczek added that a lot has happened recently under the Digital Pact for Schools, but that the structures are still very sluggish.

This impression was shared by Birgit Eickelmann, Professor of Education at the University of Paderborn. “We often play the hedgehog and the hare”. First, corrections are made and then because of the speed of technical development, digitalisation often finds itself back at the start. Countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Estonia are trailblazers, she said.

More networking needed

But what are the other criteria for successful digital learning and teaching? All participants agreed that greater networking of schools and teachers is important. Examples of best practices should be far more widely publicised, was the unanimous opinion. Many dedicated teachers already share ideas in the Twitter staff room, reported Verena Knoblauch. In this “staff room”, teachers discuss practical digital teaching and school development on Twitter.

Promoting digital education projects

The Chancellor is also working to make education projects outside the state system better known. Stephan Bayer presented his online platform “sofatutor” where teachers are available practically round the clock to answer questions put by schoolchildren by email or in the chat. The platform also offers 11,000 learning videos which are already used in lessons by numerous schools.

Another example is the “Corona-School”, founded by student Christopher Reiners and a friend at the start of the pandemic. Students work voluntarily to provide digital support for schoolchildren.

Christopher Reiners intends to continue his project in the long term. As the online dialogue has shown, many of the other innovative ideas for digital instruction will be needed for some time to come – certainty in the aftermath of the pandemic.   

The online dialogue on digital learning is closely linked to the Digital Education Initiative launched by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Minister of Education Anja Karliczek on 22 February: The initiative aims to further improve learning with digital materials and build knowledge about the most important fields of digitalisation – for people of all ages and with every level of previous education. Every generation should be able to navigate the digital world with confidence.