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German schools see a digital future

Kate Brady
October 12, 2016

With hopes of making a 'big leap' in digital learning, German Education Minister Johanna Wanka plans to invest 5 billion euros in 40,000 schools. Social Democrats and Greens have welcomed the so-called 'Digital Pact.'

Symbolbild Einschulung
Image: picture alliance/dpa/P. Steffen

Presenting her plan for cooperation with Germany's 16 states in Berlin on Wednesday, Education Minister and Christian Democrat (CDU) Johanna Wanka said the 5-billion-euro ($5.5-billion) program would provide "primary schools, advanced general schools and vocational schools with digital equipment such as broadband connection, Wi-Fi and equipment."

In return, the states actually responsible for school policy should "enforce the corresponding educational concepts, the training of teachers and common technical standards," Wanka said.

German Education Minister Johanna Wanka
German Education Minister Johanna WankaImage: Getty Images/A. Berry

The foundation for such an agreement lies in Article 91c of the German Basic Law, which forbids any collaboration between Berlin and the individual state governments in the school sector.

"The passage allows cooperation, however, in information technology," Wanka said, meaning that a change in legislation wouldn't be necessary to enable the "Digital Pact."

"Good education in the 21st century includes IT knowledge and confident handling of technology and the risks of digital communication, as well as learning through the many new possibilities of digital media," Wanka said, adding that Germany must "take advantage of these opportunities more than before." 

"We must make a big leap forward in digital education," the Education Minister added.

"The pedagogy is central to the success of digital education - digital technology must serve good education, not vice versa."

Schoolgirl stood in front of a chalkboard
No more chalkboards: Germany sees digital learning as the way forwardImage: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Eisenhuth

Positive welcome

Aside from some amendment, the reaction from state ministries of education and cultural affairs lead by Social Democrats and Greens was largely positive.

Hamburger Education Senator Ties Rabe (SPD) called for "a long-term and sustainable strategy" both at federal and state level.

"It's good that there's finally some movement on this important matter. But this shouldn't just be a flash in the pan, otherwise, in ten years time there'll be outdated and unused computers left lying around."

Green Party politician and School Minister for the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) Sylvia Löhrmann said: "It's good that the government recognizes it's responsibility for education."

"I see the offer as a first step, which will hopefully be followed by others - for example federal investment in full-time schooling, in school social services or in multi-professional teams for inclusion."

Little spending, big success

In a report released last month, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said the German education system is a thing to be envied. According to the 2016's "Education at a Glance," Germany has some of the highest rates of school enrollment and youth employment in the world.

What makes Germany's success all the more surprising is that the country actually spends less (4.2 percent of GDP) than the OECD average on education, which stands at 4.8 percent of GDP. The slight decrease in spending has not resulted in any downturn of graduate rates, however.

Mobility remains an issue, however, with most young Germans staying in the same socioeconomic category as their parents. Only one in 10 people between 21 and 44 who have parents with a school diploma or less manage to get a university degree, the report found.

kb/jm (dpa, AFP)