On October 21st, Andreas Breiter as head of the DATAFIED project took part in an international panel discussion on the future of digital education. It was organized by the German Embassy in Washington, the German Consulate General in San Francisco and the German Center for Research and Innovation and Innovation (DWIH) New York. He discussed current developments in both countries as well as chances and risks with four other experts: Barbara Holzapfel (VP Microsoft Education), Maureen McLaughlin (Senior Advisor to the Secretary and Director of International Affairs, U.S. Department of Education)
Prof. Dr. Christoph Meinel (CEO and Scientific Director, Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Engineering (HPI)).
His main statement was a déja-vu. 20 years ago, he collected data for his PhD research project in U.S. states (CA, MA, IL) and districts as well as in schools. This was compared to the German school system. The first result was the different speed of ICT and media integration in classroom practices and school management, as well as in educational policies (Breiter 2000). The “connector” between school development, district decisions and state policy making was the then called “Technology Plan”. It was mainly pedagogical and defined the requirements for ICT infrastructure. In the U.S., a Technology Plan was required from each school, each corresponding school district, and the Department of Education of each State. Even on the federal level (as powerless as in Germany), there was and is a Federal Technology Plan (currently open for revision in an online consultation process: https://tech.ed.gov/netp/). In Germany, the necessity of planning for education ICT infrastructure was neglected for quite a long time. As late as of 2018, the new DigitalPakt Schule made it a prerequisite for schools (and Schultraeger, ie. school districts) to receive funding.
The second result was the necessity of federal engagement. Already in 1996, the U.S government launched an infrastructure support program under the Telecommunications Act: the e-Rate. Until now it supports especially poorer districts (and schools) to improve their ICT infrastructure and it is worth more than $2.5 billion (per year, approx. 100,000 public schools). Germany started two years ago in 2019 with a 5-year program (DigitalPakt Schule) with overall 5 billion Euros (approx. 40,000 schools). Better later than never!
But this is only the tip of the iceberg when we look at the digital transformation of schooling. ICT infrastructure and mobile devices are relatively easy to purchase and to roll-out (just a question of money and political will – and professional ICT support structures). But substantial changes in curriculum and classroom practice require a long breath and are part of a school development process. At the bottom of the iceberg, there has to be teacher’s values and beliefs considered (check Welling et al. 2015). This requires intelligent teacher training and teacher education. And in this respect, the two countries face similar challenges. Hence, it is worth exchanging good practices and working policies between the countries. In fact, the school systems are more similar than one might think.