print close

About the aberration of a “digital education”

Event of the parents’ initiative Baden-Wuerttemberg

von Tankred Schaer

There can be no “digital education”. That was a conclusion from the lecture of Peter Hensinger, head of science of the consumer organisation “Diagnose-Funk e.V.”, which works for the protection against electromagnetic fields of mobile telephony. The parents’ initiative School Education Future (www.elterninitiative-schule-bildung-zukunft.de) of Baden-Wuerttemberg had invited on 9 February to Stuttgart and over 70 participants had come. The speaker referred to years of literature studies on this topic and confirmed the statements of recently published books with the titles “Kein Mensch lernt digital” (Ralf Lankau) and “Die Lüge der digitalen Bildung” (Ingo Leipner and Gerald Lembke).
Why then this event when everything is clear and unambiguous? During the discussion, it became obvious that despite the clear research results, digital media have to be introduced in schools under great pressure. This includes the agreement in the Mediation Committee of the “Bundestag” and “Bundesrat” on a questionable amendment to the German Basic Law on 20 February, which is to be followed by 5.5 billion euros in federal funding for schools within the framework of a so-called digital pact.
Those who advise caution are defamed as anti-progressive and put on the same footing as those who warned against the introduction of the railway two centuries ago. This is not at all about the demonisation of digital media.
At the beginning of his lecture, Peter Hensinger clarified what is meant by “digital education”:

“This does not mean that teachers use digital media and software at their own discretion as useful tools in the classroom, for example that students learn Word, Power Point or Excel [...]. Nor is ‘digital education’ about educating people to become responsible in their use of media, something that schools today undoubtedly have to do. On the contrary: [...] The digital educational reform is about a reorientation of the educational system. Just as in Industry 4.0 robots control production independently, computers and algorithms should control educational processes autonomously.”

What does this mean for daily teaching? Peter Hensinger cited from a Bertelsmann Group brochure:

“The software ‘Knewton’ scans everyone who uses the tutorial. The software meticulously observes and stores what, how and at what speed a student learns. Every reaction of the user, every mouse click and every keystroke, every right and wrong answer, every page view and every abort is recorded”.

They are actually working on this terrible scenario. At the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence in Kaiserslautern, for example, student observation systems such as eye-tracking and speech and gesture recognition are being developed for the “classroom of the future”. By measuring the facial temperature using infrared cameras, the stress on learners can be determined. The combination of such data sources with intelligent algorithms such as deep-learning methods provides completely new insights into ”individual and group-dynamic learning processes”.
How can such developments be prevented? There was an intensive discussion about this among the participants. The intention of the organisers was to give the parents affected a voice and a forum, to make demands on schools and society from the parents’ point of view, but also to clarify for themselves the situation at the schools. The introduction of networks, learning programs and the necessary hardware is a billion-dollar business. Research results that could support the introduction of this creepy technique do not exist. Nevertheless, the media are repeatedly used to persuade us that our future as an educational nation can only be secured through the comprehensive digitalisation of schools. The opposite is true.
Consequences have already been drawn in other countries. The audience was astonished to learn that all highly acclaimed “Steve Jobs Schools” in the Netherlands have been closed. They were considered as a model for the “exit from the Cretaceous period”. In 2012 in Australia, after a decline in the Pisa ranking, around 2.4 billion Australian dollars were invested in laptop equipment for schools. They were collected again since 2016. The students have done everything but study. Similar things are happening in South Korea, Thailand, the USA and Turkey.
Even in Germany, no school is legally obliged to set up a WLAN. No teacher can be committed to using media he does not want to use. Parents can ask about the pedagogical concept at the parents’ evenings if the computer programs are to take the lead in “self-directed learning”.
It’s high time we reversed this trend. At the beginning of his lecture, Peter Hensinger cited from a study on changes in leisure behaviour among young people. Within just 5 years, smartphone usage increased by 75 %. Over the same period, other activities decreased: playing with children by 13 %, meeting with parents/grandparents by 19 %, meeting friends at home by 29 % and inviting/being invited by 42 %. The damage caused by the ill-considered introduction of digital media, forced solely by financial interests, is obvious. Parents and teachers who want to prevent this have all good arguments on their side.     •