Public education as a private source of money

Public education as a private source of money

by Carl Bossard

Private schools in Switzerland are booming. At the same time, private ICT companies and international technology groups are wriggling into public education. And what is the role of politics? A critical interjection.

Like mushrooms they spring up, private schools, almost monthly1. About 5 per cent of the pupils in Switzerland go to a private school. The Canton of Zurich alone has 165 of such institutions; since 2010 this means an increase of about 20 per cent. Many parents distrust the public schools and look for an alternative. They dig deep into their purses. Well-off parents can afford to do this more easily and have their children separately educated.

Many reasons – Problematic development

Private schools have always existed. Let us recall the non-profit-oriented denominational monastic schools with Matura (the Swiss school leaving examination) and teacher training, such as the Protestant teachers’ seminars Unterstrass Zürich and Schiers, or the free Catholic teacher seminar St. Michael Zug, as well as reform-educational schools in the succession of Maria Montessori and Célestin Freinet, Paul Geheeb and Rudolf Steiner. They originated from religious motives or educational ideals. In many areas, these institutions provided educational pioneer work and were an important pioneer of reforms at state schools.

Private schools therefore have their indispensable value. However, they must be accessible to all and strive for the highest possible equality of opportunity. The barrier may not be in the asset portfolio; this contradicts this principle. But the urge to enter the private alternative is noticeable.

There are many reasons for turning away from the public elementary school: too heterogeneous classes, too much pressure from the many subjects, lack of learning and achievement, lazy teaching style or lack of trust in the teacher. The parents look more closely today. Their demands are increasing. Often it must be the Swiss grammar school. At most, a private one.

Social coherence of the school erodes

The Schwyz district of Höfe on the upper Lake of Zurich is a preferred location for new private schools. The Obersee Bilingual School or the Swiss International School are just two examples. The canton grants them privileges which they deny to their own middle schools, such as the running of the long-term grammar school (6 instead of 4 years). Around 25 per cent of upper secondary school students have already turned their backs on public schools. They prefer private providers.

Margrit Stamm, emeritus professor of the University of Fribourg and director of the research institute Swiss Education in Berne, speaks of a new, dangerous parallel system: if this tendency increases and the child’s potential and level of performance are no longer decisive but the wallet is, this will lead to an increasing segregation. “Equal opportunity decreases, and the public schools are falling behind.”2

Heterogeneity cannot be raised arbitrarily

Thus, the education scientist refers to the cohesive power of the school and its function as a social connector: at least in the primary school children from all social classes get to know each other. This social commitment is important for a country like Switzerland – perhaps just as vital as French in the primary school. For this reason, education policy has to do everything in its power to create “opportune conditions”, as the sociologist Jürgen Habermas calls for. Heterogeneity cannot be raised arbitrarily. The “Aufstand der (Basler) Lehrer” (revolt of teachers of Basel) and the open letter of several hundred Bernese educators are alarm signals3. Likewise, the recent Pisa results. Or the fact that two-thirds of the applicants for business apprenticeships in banks and insurances as well as chemistry and public administrative offices are rejected because “they do not fulfill the necessary requirements”4. Such facts are detrimental to the reputation of public schools and favour the exodus.

Google & Co. wriggle into classrooms

The walkout from the state schoolrooms is one phenomenon, but the real and triggering problem is the entry of private providers into education. “[...] Global technology groups such as Google sense the great deal with digitisation,” the NZZ am Sonntag wrote recently5. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” even speaks of “googlification” (“Googlifizierung”) of education6.

Digitalisation can make money. Very much even. Analysts at the Bank Julius Bär estimate that in 2017 up to 7.8 trillion (= 7800 billion) dollars will be spend in the global education market. The NZZ am Sonntag said: “A world-wide, profit-oriented education industry is spreading.” It also does not stop in front of Switzerland.

The digital techniques dominate everyday life

We all know that we cannot imagine the world without a computer, the Internet and the social media anymore. Digital technologies have penetrated almost all areasof life, no ifs, no buts. We have reached the point of no return. The digital panopticon of Internet, Smartphone, and Google glasses predominate the lives of youngsters – and changes tuition. The everyday situation of school and learning is being digitalised.

Education with industrial character

Public schools are on the verge of a great upheaval. Multinational concerns are putting them under pressure. Digitalisation is being pressed ahead. In 2012, there was a collection of Massive Open Online Courses MOOC which are the newest vagary of digital education; the “New York Times” proclaimed “The Year of the MOOC”. That’s already passé. What is fashionable now, is the virtual tutor. It teaches the young people – more specifically, from early childhood to the entire educational life.

This is how it works: students are given a daily learning plan tailored just for them, a computer centre puts it together overnight. The learning software for each student plans the optimal subjects and watches

over the working steps. Algorithms analyse their learning progress and gives them feedback, recognises their mistakes and shows the paths to solving the problems and figures out the next exercises.

Even “personalised” learning needs to be done via face-to-face

This work on the display or touch screen steered by algorithms with simultaneous automatic control, is called “personalised” learning. An euphemism! The frowned upon tuition in the daily school routine, is now being ennobled in the digital variation. A return to teaching, in which the teacher stands in front of the classroom, however, not in the social collective but rather in didactic solitary confinement. Each student on its own, accompanied only by a software. Whoever the virtual tutor teaches like this will not go short. Except from the bliss of insight. This will remain foreign to him.7

Today’s lessons cannot be done without modern media – this is a fact. Learning however, may not be determined by digital technology alone. It will not work without someone who is interested and engaged. This concept is true even for digital technology and new media as well as the didactic primate: the human is and remains the teacher of humans. All empirical research points to this fact. “The increased use of digital media does not lead to (...) better performances of the pupils per se. […] It mostly depends on the instructor” summarised the large Telekom study from 2015.8 And it does not remain alone with this finding.

The supporting strength of practice

Each important aspect will be mentally taken into consideration. This protects us from little machines. The teacher who is present, the instructor with convincing knowledge of his subject maintains its place in the classroom. The value of this effect comes from his lessons and from the personal contact between teacher and student. The results of this are shown in the comprehensive John Hattie study as well as with the research results of neuro- biologists Gerhard Roth and Joachim Bauer. Moreover, we all know this from the time of our own schooling.

Horse-sense sometimes cannot hurt. When ideas and innovations begin to transform themselves into ideological and exclusive trade, the realists and empiricists go against them. This is also true for the earlier socio-political problematical pressure in private schools, it is especially true for the current and for internet businesses which force the one-sided digitalisation of our schools.

1 Jeitziner, Denise. Die Besserwisser (The wiseacres), in: SonntagsZeitung, 19 March 2017, pp. 53
2 Müller, Robert. Ein Kampf um reiche Kinder im Steuerparadies (A struggle for rich children in the tax haven), in: WOZ, 5.3.2015
3 Pastega, Najda. Das Leiden der Lehrer (The suffering of teachers), in: SonntagsZeitung, 26.3.2017, pp. 2; Jones, Naomi. Lehrer wollen nicht mehr alleine unterrichten (Teachers do not want to teach on their own anymore), in: Der Bund, 16.3.2017; Aschwanden, Marius. Über 800 Berner Lehrer fordern Unterricht im Team (Over 800 Bernese teachers demand team-teaching), in: Berner Zeitung, 18.3.2017
4 Franziska Pfister, Mangel an KV-Lehrlingen nimmt zu (Lack in business apprentices increases), in: NZZ am Sonntag, 16.6.2017, p. 29
5 Burri, Anja. Privatfirmen drängen in die öffentliche Bildung (Private enterprises wirggle into public education), in: NZZ am Sonntag, 11.6.2017, p. 1, pp. 18
6 Hulverscheidt, Claus. Digitalisierung an Schulen – Google drängt in die Klassenzimmer (Digitalisation of schools - Google is wirggling the classroom), in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 16.6.2017
7 Thiel, Thomas, Digitales Lernen. Entmündigung als Bildungsziel (Digital Learning. Incapacitation as the goal of education), in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 14.7.2016
8 Bos, Wilfried. Institut für Schulentwicklung IFS der TU Dortmund, (Institute for School Development IFS of the TU Dortmund), in: Schule digital. Der Länderindikator (Digital School. The federal state indicator). 2015, p. 8

Source: Journal 21 from 20.6.2017
(Translation Current Concerns)

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