The second wave: The digital-mental virus spreads

Statement of the Society for Education and Knowledge (GBW e.V.) on joint recommendations for actions by IT- and teacher associations in corona times

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures unavoidably lead to distance learning and the increased use of digital technologies. It was to be expected that IT associations would joyfully welcome this development and call for stabilising the use of IT in schools. Surprisingly, teachers’ associations are also calling for distance learning and digital schooling. Is it clear to everyone involved what this means?

In May 2020, the German Informatics Society launched the “Offensive Digital School Transformation” (#OdigS) together with IT and business representatives and teachers’ associations. This contribution to “digital education policy” consistently reduces school education to technical aspects (see box). The purpose is the digitally controlled school. The transformation according to the parameters of the IT and data economy is not about a “one-to-one transfer of analogue to digital”, learning structures and processes must rather be rethought and further developed in conformity with IT. That means concretely:

  • IT and teacher associations are calling for the development of an infrastructure for distance learning and homeschooling beyond the COVID-19 era. German schools are, for good reason, presence schools with classroom teaching. Distance learning is not suitable for children and young people and should be reserved for adult education and/or exceptional situations (illness, pandemics). Such far-reaching structural and methodological changes have to be justified in terms of subject matter and discussed democratically with all those involved in order to be technically and politically legitimised before such far-reaching and expensive technical infrastructures are built up, the pedagogical benefit of which is still not proven.
  • IT and teacher associations demand that teaching content and teaching methods be geared to the future world of work. However, the purpose of school education and training is education and the development of an independent and responsible personality using relevant objects of culture and history. This includes subject-related skills and knowledge, combined with a deeper understanding of what is being learned, in order to develop critical faculties and social responsibility. Adaptation to and orientation towards the labour market, on the other hand, is not anchored in any school law.
  • Digital technology is automation technology. The purpose is both, IT-guided teaching and data-supported school development. On the one hand, complex learning processes have to be broken down into digitally prepared and controllable morsels enabling “programmed learning” in the bad sense of behaviorism. For this purpose, as much student and teacher data as possible are collected and evaluated. This is where several developments come together:
    – Competence orientation (KO) with its small-scale competence levels and grids and the emptying of content is the prerequisite for the adjustment of subject content towards verifiable information units, which thus lose their educational meaning.
    – Thus, competence-oriented, feedback-controlled digital learning is the implementation of the behavioristic idea of being able to control human learning processes “in a programmed way”. However, this external control, which is contrary to education and freedom, is apparently concealed so effectively by the colourful, supposedly “interactive” programme interfaces that teachers’ associations are fooled by it.
    – Digital technology is the technical infrastructure and allows the small-scale measurement of all learning performance via feedback channel and learning analytics. This is the habituation and adjustment of learners to IT systems and structures.

    – Data-supported school development is the number-fixed model, empirical educational research the equally number-believing theory behind it. Digitally organised society (Martin Jung in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”) is thus joined by digitally controlled schooling and testing. Pedagogy is sacrificed on the altar of numbers and the supposed predictability of learning processes.
  • All learning is logged and stored. There is no more forgetting and no more privacy in classrooms and children’s rooms, because everything done on computers is digitally recorded and evaluated. This means that trust between teachers and learners is no longer possible. Trust is based on the fact that people only discuss or agree something with each other.
  • Trust is the elementary basis for the relationship between teachers and students. With these recommendations for action, trust as the basis of pedagogical work is replaced by complete performance and learning protocols. This is not pedagogy, but the preparation of people at the screen, the Bentham Panopticon in digital form.

If, instead of optimising technical systems, you focus on people and their individual development as autonomous personalities, you will have different requirements for the use of IT. Instead of collecting data for user profiles, data is stored locally at best (edge computing) and deleted after use. Personality and performance profiles are neither created nor marketed. Technically, this is realised with open operating systems such as Linux and open source software in the intranet, with local servers or own servers at the provider. Keywords are data economy, decentralisation and data sovereignty for the users. For communication you use encrypted messengers like Signal or Threema, which do not record meta data, for surfing browsers that do not store history data or Tor browsers (The Onion Router) that anonymise your address.
Thus computers and software become again what they should be: Tools for professional and private communication and entertainment, but also media in the classroom. There, for example, technology for active media production, without forced data prostitution. All this is technically feasible and proven in practice. In this form, IT can also be used in a pedagogically and didactically meaningful way in lessons from secondary school onwards. It is “only” necessary to rethink and replace the requirements of the data economy by the needs of the people who are learning and to use the media in a way that is appropriate to the people and the matter at hand, instead of adapting both to IT systems.

Contact persons:
Prof. Dr Jochen Krautz,
University of Wuppertal,
President of the GBW e.V.

AR Dr Matthias Burchardt,
University of Cologne,
Managing Director of GBW e.V.

(Translation Current Concerns)

jk./mb. The demands of the IT associations1 have been repeating for over 30 years: more money, more jobs, more influence and weight in politics and society. In detail:

  • Intensification of the use of digital teaching and learning media in schools and in “home learning”; schools should be involved in the design of lessons and reflect the “requirements and the standards of an increasingly automated, networked and digital life- and working world”;
  • equipment of schools and students with terminal equipment, extention of networks and “long-term financing structures for digital educational contents”;
  • extension of compulsory computer science lessons for all from secondary school onwards and use of digital tools in all compartments and the upgrading of informatics (equality with the other STEM subjects (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics);
  • compulsory education and training of all teachers (computer science and media competence), as modern and future-oriented teaching is  coupled to the didactic skills of teaching and learning with digital media as well as to information technology and media-competencies;
  • building and expanding of school clouds, learning platforms as centralised infrastructure (instead of isolated solutions), which should be “extensively brought into schools across the country and should be reliably available for the organisation of lessons and implementation in form of interactive distance learning in real-time and autonomous and collaborative learning”;
  • more IT specialists, media educators, advice for teachers and school boards for use of suitable digital teaching solutions;
  • state-financed hardware and software for the teachers.

This does not go far enough and remains a part of the informatic thinking. But we have to rethink IT and develop further concrete alternatives to current structures before we even want to work with IT. Because neither the “unlimited digital capitalism according to the American model” nor the “Orwellian government surveillance” as in China are, according to the German Federal President Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Kirchentag 2019, an option for Europe and certainly not for schools.



(Translation Current Concerns)

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