“No computer can replace a teacher”

Press conference of the “Alliance for a Humane Education” in Stuttgart

by Klaudia Kruck-Schaer

In Stuttgart the “Bündnis für humane Bildung – aufwach(s)en mit digitalen Medien” (“Alliance for a Humane Education –awaking to the growing up with digital media”) introduced itself to the media in an extensive press conference on 9 October 2017. Present were the speaker of the Alliance Professor Dr Ralf Lankau (University of Offenburg), as well as Dr Matthias Burchardt (University of Cologne), Professor Dr Paula Bleckmann (Alanus College, Bonn), Professor Dr Edwin Hübner (Freie Hochschule Stuttgart), Professor Dr Gerald Lembke (Dual University of Applied Sciences Baden-Wuerttemberg, Mannheim) and Peter Hensinger (Diagnose Funk). To the alliance also belong Professor Dr Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt (University of Bielefeld) and Professor Dr Dr Manfred Spitzer.

The “Alliance for a Humane Education” is a union of citizens who advocate a humane and democratic education in all public education institutions. The alliance is committed to having all children and young people in the schools personally instructed and cared for, regardless of their parents’ social status and financial power. Renowned scientists from different disciplines, including cognitive research, developmental psychology and pedagogy, have joined the alliance. They oppose the imprudent introduction of digitisation at the schools and, in particular, the “Digitalpakt # D” (digital agreement) initiated by Federal Minister Wanka. This compromises the educational sovereignty of the Federal States and the teachers’ methodological freedom. It encroaches on the decisions of individual school authorities and links the financial budgets with five-year plans and technical presets (cloud computing, WLAN), without being able to prove the benefit of media technology in class.
All statements at the press conference were driven by great commitment, and they made clear that there is no evidence that the massive use of digital media results in better learning outcomes. “There is no ‘digital education’, the computer can only be an aid,” Peter Hensinger summed up briefly and precisely. Learning happens in relation to another person. The teacher cannot be replaced by a computer and its learning software.

Criticism of “Digitalpakt # D”

According to the words of the Alliance’s speaker, Professor Dr Lankau, the reason for the launch of the alliance was the widespread concern about the comprehensive digitisation of schools following the Education Secretary Johanna Wanka’s initiative of the so-called Digitalpakt # D. In order to express their concern, the alliance initiated the petition “Trojans from Berlin: Digitalpakt # D” on 1 November 2016. This was signed, among others, by many professors, university lecturers and teachers. 1,688 persons have signed this petition on the Internet by now (as of 15.10.2017, https://bildung-wissen.eu/kommentare /erklaerung-trojaner-digitalpaktd.html). In addition, an open letter was sent to the state ministers of education and cultural affairs and to the the Kultusministerkonferenz (“Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education an Cultural Affairs of the Länder”) on 28 June  2017: “DigitalPakt School as seen by the Ministers of Education: aberration of education policy”.

Clear research results on education and digitisation

During the Stuttgart press conference it became clear that there, scientists had come together who presented and brought together clear research results on the issues of education and digitisation.
It was clearly perceptible that it was the members’ intention that learning was to be the central focus again in all areas of education, that the students should again collect the requirements for studying, and that a humane education must be maintained as a prerequisite of a functioning democracy. Professor Dr Lankau quoted the OECD Director of Education, Andreas Schleicher, as saying: “We have to consider it as a reality that technology is more damaging than useful in our schools.” Consequently, the pioneering nations of South Korea and Finland have turned back to restricting the use of digital devices in the classroom.

Children are no training robots

Dr Matthias Burchardt spoke on the issue “For Humanisation of Living Conditions”. He emphasised that the participants of the alliance were no “machine breakers”. They had all done research. Digital education had to be developed in a reflected way. The age of the children and the respective school type had to be considered.
Hardly any attention, he said, was given to important findings from the research carried out by the educational sciences: There was a primordial situation in education: Learning meant a human interpersonal relationship. Burchardt pointed out that education and learning are the result of a direct and vital relationship between human beings. Here the foundation is laid for maturity and social responsibility. He continued to explain that digitisation of private and public pedagogical spheres is detrimental to the education of the individual, that it isolates the human being, alienates him from the world and from his fellow human beings. It also surrenders students to control and management by others, and thereby endangers our common culture, our democracy and economy. According to Burchardt, there is a risk that the passing on of knowledge from generation to generation will be disturbed. The acquisition of computers, he said, was a compensation for deficiencies. Teachers are to be replaced by machines and devices, and students are to learn in a “self-controlled” manner, which means that students are to optimise themselves cybernetically like training robots. Thereby the computer controls the learner and calculates the next learning step. All the student’s impulses are recorded. The student is therefore put into a new role. The learning process is monitored and controlled. Burchard explained that the digitisation project pursued economic interests, prepared students for the process industry 4.0 and did not serve humanisation of living conditions.

Promises of digitisation will not come true

The promise made by digitisation will not be fulfilled. “Competence orientation” and the “new learning culture” must be revoked in order to allow for good education. The focus needs to be put on a good staffing ratio at schools and on well-trained teachers. “Schools and universities need more staff, good buildings and a renaissance of educational thinking free of technocratic, politic or economic ideologies,” said Burchardt.
Professor Dr Gerald Lembke made concrete recommendations regarding the use of digital media in teaching:
“Based on scientific knowledge and to the best of my belief as a scientist and father, it is an erroneous belief that our children become better adapted to life and their future through digital media, smartphones and tablets in nurseries and primary schools. I am not fundamentally opposed to the use of digital media in educational processes. However, these should be used defensively and as one among other proven pedagogical methods. At the age of up to 12, digital media should definitely not be used in the educational process.”

Teaching children to be responsible in their use of media

Professor Dr Paula Bleckmann advocated in Stuttgart, that parents should essentially buy their children mobile phones that are not web-enabled, in order to set them a limit. Ever younger children are given mobile phones, and younger children are particularly prone to develop addictive behaviour. Professor Bleckmann is doing research on the emergence of addiction in relation to digital media and has also published on the subject. She offers teacher training courses on “How do our children become responsible in their use of media?” In the Ortenau-Kreis in Baden-Wuerttemberg, and they are very popular.
In his seminars for further education for parents, Professor Bleckmann is confronted with the parents’ needs: “In the prevention programme ‘Echt Dabei- gesund werden im digitalenZeitalter’ (Really taking part – growing up healthily in the digital age)1 we experience the plight of parents and educators at daycare centres and primary schools every day: They see the negative effects on the physical, psychosocial and cognitive development of children, which the ever-expanding consumption of screen media entails. And they ask themselves: How do we balance protection against digital risks against the ability to seize digital opportunities? How will our children become responsible users of media instead of media addicts?”

So far, politics has refused to enter into a dialogue

Professor Bleckmann heads the study group “Digitisation of Education” within the Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler (Association of German Scientists). This group is exactly concerned with this balance. She thinks that “the fact that our government’s digital education policy lacks precisely this good balance is a disaster. First of all, we need studies in the good tradition of assessing the consequences of technology that compare different digital educational scenarios in the long term. It is negligent to put all one’s eggs into one basket, and moreover – according to the current state of research – into the wrong basket: In this way, a lot of suffering is caused and a lot of money wasted. To prevent this, I am an active member of the Alliance for Humane Education.”
During the discussion, Professor Lankau and Professor Bleckmann stated that there had been no dialogue with the Federal Government and the relevant bodies so far and that “digital education” was decided in the Federal Ministry for Research and Education in Berlin. If scientists of the “Alliance for Humane Education” were listened to at all in this context, they were always only “alibi critics”. The Federal Ministry of Family Affairs and Education was decisively advised by a group of industrialists, the Feldafinger Kreis and the Scheer Group led by Professor August-Wilhelm Scheer. Professor Scheer is the initiator of the Saarbrücken Manifesto2 and a shareholder and chairman of the advisory board of Scheer GmbH, an international IT company. Scheer GmbH works closely with the software developer SAP. The educators advising Education Minister Johanna Wanka come from the field of empirical research. The “Institute for Artificial Intelligence” in Ulm is also one of the consulting institutions (www.uni-ulm.de/in/ki/).    •

1    “Echt dabei” is an initiative of the BKK umbrella association, the BKK regional associations and the participating company health insurance funds. The prevention programme was developed by “Media Protect e. V. - Familien stärken im digitalen Zeitalter“ (“to strengthen families in the digital era”), which was developed mainly by Professor Bleckmann of the University of Freiburg.
2    www.scheer-group.com/Scheer/uploads/2016/11/Scheer_Saarbr%C3%BCcker-Manifest.pdf

7 humanist demands of the “Alliance for Humane Education”

“Neither teachers nor pupils should be made to work with digital devices during the lessons.” – This already offers the legal freedom of choice of teaching material.

  1. Schools and universities in Germany are educational institutions with humanist and democratic traditions. They are thought out by people and not by technical systems and their development cycles. It is necessary to have more teachers, mentors and tutors and not hardware.
  2. Media and media technology are tools in a pedagogical or (subject) didactical context. They are materials which could be used for assisting in order to support the lesson and the learning. The teachers themselves decide about which teaching materials, with respect to their educational background and according to the basic rights of free learning and teaching materials.
  3. Neither teachers nor pupils may be forced to use devices of the media- or consumer electronics such as tablets, smart-phones or others. Each child must be able to take part in the lessons and to do the homework without having to use electronic devices and without being disadvantaged.
  4. Data from and between schools and pupils may neither be recorded nor be evaluated for learning profiles. Pupils are lawfully protected minors, their data, according to German Law must be protected. Here we have legislative backlog demand prior to technical concepts.
  5. From the perspective of pediatricians, cognitive scientists, representatives of the media impact and evalutation research and of pedagogy, screen media do not support learning in the first years of school. As a result, daycare centers and primary schools must be IT-free in direct pedigogical work.
  6. The crucial media-competence for educational opportunities like for educational justice are the cultural techniques: reading, writing and calculating. Investment in these cultural techniques and a promotion of reading are sustainable and emancipatory.
  7. Media technology in the classroom is always to be questioned from an educational perspective and to assess: whether and, if so, when it can (not must) be used age-appropriate.

(Translation Current Concerns)