Germany’s students look into the tube. Yet again. The schools are closed for the second time within a year. The children’s room has to serve as a classroom, instead of lessons there are distance lessons, education takes place in front of the screen. Provided, of course, that the server holds up. That wasn’t always the case in the first few days of this second school lockdown, and any collapsing learning platform is of course worth a headline. But with all problems: Learning from a distance works better than in spring. After all.
The schools have gone through a digital crash course in the past few months and learned more on the subject than in the previous 20 years. Distance learning also promotes innovation from a pedagogical point of view: When asked how children and young people can be motivated to learn and work independently, teachers and of course parents suddenly have to find completely new answers. That can’t hurt. And yes, the digital equipment in schools and pupils has also improved, even if it is still far from being enough. But something is moving.
Distance teaching is and remains a crutch
But before someone starts singing the praises of the crisis as an opportunity: Distance teaching is and will remain a crutch. It is not an equivalent substitute for real classroom teaching; it is an imposition for families. Of course, the crisis also opens up opportunities for schools. But first and foremost it is: a crisis. A crisis that threatens to turn into a real catastrophe.
The first lockdown showed more than clearly how urgently young people and especially children need school – certainly not only if they come from less independent, less stable, less organized families. Knowledge, personal development, language acquisition, social skills – the gaps in the educational biographies of millions of children are already large. And they will continue to grow the longer the schools close. The dangerous temptation of the coming months and years is to try to cover up these gaps in schools. That must not be.
The curricula can be made leaner
The federal states have the responsibility to honestly and seriously measure the damage to the schools and to develop a strategy as to how it can be repaired as far as possible. Don’t fail anyone this school year – absolutely. Adjust the final exams this school year to the difficult conditions – I agree. But that’s just symptom treatment. In the medium and long term, a plan is needed to come to terms with the crisis – with individual support courses and repetition programs. The curricula can therefore be made leaner. If the federal states do not want to chase after development again, they must tackle this task now. However, it must be doubted that they are up to it.
The ministers of education and culture have been bombarded with criticism and malice for months, and calls for resignation make it into the hashtag hit parade on Twitter. It’s not always fair. If school politicians are committed to letting at least elementary school students return to class soon, then that is not a scandal, but their job. If they advocate open schools, they can be believed that education is at stake – and not just child custody so parents can work. Often enough, the school politicians are welcome lightning rods for their bosses in the state chancellery, where the big questions are actually decided: Do the schools stay open, do they have to close, do they switch lessons? It is not uncommon for the education ministers alone to get the concentrated anger.
Nobody wants schools to have to change their physical state every day
But: Of course, the ministers of education share responsibility for a school policy that drives many families into despair or madness. At the beginning of January, the Berlin Senate managed to commit to the school closings in just one week, to undermine them and finally to back down. That’s how you create chaos, that’s how you lose support. No one should be surprised that Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek thinks it is a good moment to once again count the state sovereignty in education. The federal states deliver their steep submissions non-stop.
When schools reopen in February or possibly even later – elementary schools and graduating classes first – then the federal states must finally create reliability. Yes, it is true, a rigid automatism that forces schools to switch models or to learn from a distance when the incidence value is X is impractical. Nobody wants schools to have to change their physical state every day because the numbers fluctuate. But that is no justification for refusing to use any benchmark for schools as before and insisting on classroom teaching alone. What this leads to can be seen in December, when the ministers of education and their soft wax plans were overwhelmed by developments.