Digital school during the Covid19 crisis (2) – Basic considerations

As already outlined in Part 1 of the article , the performance of teachers was very heterogeneous and perceptions of the school situation during the lockdown diverged strongly between teachers and parents. From the point of view of the headmasters, there was much positive change in their teachers (which is factually true!), while from the point of view of many parents, too many teachers behaved as if they were no longer responsible for the child’s welfare Some teachers even explicitly communicated their abdication, or rejection, of responsibility. In the sense of: It’s your problem, Mummy! It’s a scoundrel who (doesn’t) see in such behaviour a payback for the loss of reputation of the teaching staff and decades of making parents feel important.

The desirable but unlikely new school consensus

The subliminal conflicts – the suppressed anger and indignation on both sides – invite us to quickly forget everything and carry on after the crisis as before the crisis. The best thing to do is to talk about it in a politically correct way, right? Of course, that would mean: nothing but damage: a damaged generation and no benefit at all! It would be better to learn lessons from the health crisis, to continue with the positive and to remedy the negative. For this to be effective in the long term, the relationship between teachers and parents should be renegotiated, with both sides approaching each other. The perpetual gaining of small advantages, which inhibits cooperation throughout Switzerland in many areas, would have to be overcome in the case of the digital school. We would have to leave the tactics behind and enhance the role and reputation of teachers. At the same time, however, we should also make them responsible for acquiring the new digital tools and for helping to develop digital forms of teaching. Of course, this seems illusory, because it would reverse a long-standing trend. But it is conceivable. Because what everyone can hopefully agree on is that good teachers make a big difference. Or is there already dissent on this issue? Are we really hoping for the teaching machines? Being a good teacher today also means being able to teach in a digitally effective way. It also means maintaining social contact with students in times of physical separation and helping them to keep their bearings and receive adequate feedback. And it involves active participation in the further development of one’s own profession in terms of digital transformation. If we could agree on this, then it should go without saying that such qualities deserve high esteem – and that esteem worthy of the name also includes all who aspire to these qualities. All the more so as there is some evidence that a higher reputation of teachers also leads to higher teaching effectiveness. If – as expected – a new basic consensus of this kind on the future of the school is not found, then school leaders and teachers should nevertheless try to prepare themselves for the digital future. Out of a sense of responsibility for the future of the country! And hopefully even more out of a sense of joy in their responsibility for children and young people!

The ten pillars for the digital school

Admittedly, the gap between the analogue and digital worlds is very wide. It is even wider in the school sector than in the economy or in public administration. But it can be overcome if schools and their teachers build a bridge that they place on sustainable pillars. These pillars include

  1. Positive framing of the challenges by the school management and knowledge of the problems, as well as high commitment and desire for their own learning among the teachers
  2. Digital skills/skills in using digital tools and good technical infrastructure among all stakeholders – including students (and parents)
  3. Support and coaching for teachers and students in case of technical or usage problems
  4. Teachers should be able to use digital tools to fulfil their own tasks – not only to teach the material, but also for social contact, which is even more important in crisis situations
  5. Willingness to and creative design of co-production of teaching – at university the “production partners” of the teachers are the students themselves, at primary and secondary school it is primarily the parents
  6. Study of the practical challenges of digital teaching and the context in which it takes place – based on a big picture of what tasks and special abilities schools have or should have
  7. Consistent learning of good practices through trial and error, observation and reflection on the effects
  8. Sharing knowledge and experiences within and across schools – including copying/adapting the good practices of others and sharing one’s own strategies and tricks so that others can adopt them
  9. Open collaboration with all in developing better digital learning tools to actively shape technological developments in the field
  10. Researching effective practices and sharing the new knowledge and know-how on digital schooling through training and professional development at teacher training colleges

7. and 8. are central to this. Unfortunately, the schools tried to build the bridge from the analogue world to the digital world on their own, and the cantons added to this with different framework conditions (not to mention the lack of a view across the border). Thus, in only a few places did enough knowledge come together to successfully realise a digital school in the health crisis. Not all of the pillars outlined need to be similarly stable, but in sum they must be sufficiently resilient to enable the creation of new digital options for action in schools. These are not only needed if a second or third wave forces new lockdowns. They can also be used to catch up on what has been missed (which is too often omitted in the Swiss school system), to reduce the differences in educational classes (which in some cantons correlate strongly with the income classes of the parents) and to create more equal educational opportunities for children from educationally disadvantaged families.

The false counterargument

The counter-argument against such plans is very often the same: It is not comprehensively possible. Digital schools will never be as successful as analogue offline schools. Not all school tasks and core competences can be digitised. Many things have not yet been digitally successful (for example, teaching reading). And: the disadvantage of children from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds cannot be eliminated. The loss of contact with some children during a crisis cannot be prevented. And so on and so forth. All true, but thought according to the exclusive only-zero-or-one principle. It is not about an either-or between analogue and digital teaching. It is not about creating a perfect educational landscape, i.e. one that is the same for everyone. Rather, it is about developing and learning, trying out possibilities and striving for improvement. Besides all the negative and terrible things, crises almost always offer an opportunity for development. This – one can confidently say in the case – has always been the case.


References (chronological order)


Acknowledgements

Nada Endrissat, Thomas Gees, Martin Halter, Christoph Luchsinger, Tine Melzer, Thomas Jarchow – von Büren, Reinhard Starka and Anne-Careen Stoltze-Siebmann played a major role in the creation of this article (including the other parts). We would also like to thank Alain Gut and our colleagues in the ICT-Switzerland Education Commission, as well as colleagues from Parldigi, with whom we were able to exchange ideas. The series “Lessons from the Covid19 crisis” was initiated by Ingrid Kissling-Näf. It is supervised by Anne-Careen Stoltze-Siebmann.


The “Lessons from the Covid19 Crisis” series

Part 1: A Situation Analysis was published on 5 June. Part 3: Concrete recommendations will be published on 19 June.

AUTOR/AUTORIN: Reinhard Riedl

Reinhard Riedl heads the BFH Centre Digital Society and edits the online magazine SocietyByte. He was president of the Swiss Informatics Society and the International Society for New Music Bern IGNM.

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