"German students will spend their afternoons learning through new technologies"
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Education in Germany is being reformed. The extension of school hours into the afternoon will foster the generalised use of internet and the ICT at schools.
At present, the majority of German schools are only open until midday, but they are soon to remain open until 5 pm. Students will spend more time learning in school, and the German government wants them to do so for the most part through internet and new media. The final decision depends on each federal Land, but the general trend is moving in this direction.
We spoke to Ursula Esser, Head of the International Unit of Schulen ans Netz, an initiative that was launched in 1996 to connect the 34,000 German schools to internet. This objective having nearly been reached, Schulen ans Netz is currently developing a series of innovative pedagogical and didactic programs to help teachers use new technology in daily schoolwork in a critical manner.
How will the extension of school hours be organised?
We want to offer material through internet that the teachers can use with their students in the afternoons. Furthermore, students will not continue in their usual classes, but will join groups divided according to specific topics. For instance, if a student has problems with mathematics or languages, he/she can attend the courses offered in the afternoon on those topics. We want students to spend their afternoons learning through new technologies.
How do you approach teaching students through the ICT?
We have developed the ‘Medien Konzept’ philosophy. This consists in the students making a portfolio of their knowledge in new media, such that if a new teacher walks into the classroom, he/she can see, for instance, that those students have already worked on mathematics with Excel, and for languages, they have used such and such a function of Word. Work with the media can be documented. In addition, students will receive a certificate when they graduate indicating their knowledge of the new technologies.
What type of training on new technologies do you provide to teachers?
The majority of teachers in Germany are slightly older and there is a certain sentiment of rejection of new technologies. At times, students know how to apply the new media better than their teachers and conflicts arise. Many of the teachers rejecting the use of new technologies in their classroom cannot see what value they contribute. Our task is to demonstrate the existence of added value, and that is why we offer the service, Weblotsen (web guides), which consists of having a team of trainers travelling throughout Germany and providing training. In the first phase, they travelled to all German Länder, and now we are especially addressing the ‘multipliers’, which are the school directors, the administrators and information technology teachers, that is, people who can train the remaining teaching staff.
I suppose you also do more specific training...
Yes, we do. For example, we have a workshop that lasts a day or two where teachers learn how eTwinning functions and how to work with internet using portals. We teach them how to create a ‘virtual’ class, how to organise a website and things of this sort. In the second part of the workshop, they reflect on the intercultural aspects of bi-national projects. Furthermore, we have developed the portal, Lehrer Online (www.lehrer-online.de ), with many pedagogical resources for all sorts of schools and subjects.
Do many teachers use the portals of Schulen ans Netz?
Thousands of teachers connect with our portal every day. And we have ascertained that they use our portals from their homes more than from school, which means that schools do not yet offer the facilities they need. There is still not enough equipment at the schools. Germany has a certain level of equipment, but it is not enough. More resources must be invested.
I believe that in Germany, gender issues have been worked on a great deal.
Yes, that’s true. We have created the portal, leanet, designed for female teachers, for women involved in the field of education. The portal motivates them to connect to internet and offers them courses, materials, information in the field of education and an account for their personal electronic mail. We have also created Lizzynet, a portal for women where users can create discussion groups on certain topics or create their own page to introduce themselves personally. These services are used a great deal.
Are schools motivated to create digital content?
In Germany, the number of students is decreasing and the schools have to demonstrate how attractive they are. This situation favours the creation of good websites. Practically all secondary schools have a website where they present their projects and activities. At Schulen ans Netz, we have developed a tool that is very easy to use for schools to create their own websites. It is called Primolo, and it is above all for primary schools.
And what role does the technological aspect play in all of this?
Our concept is that the information technology infrastructure must be outside of schools, so that they need not concern themselves with matters beyond their pedagogical task. We therefore try to have the information technology material located in other places, such as town halls or libraries.
You are the director of the international section of Schulen ans Netz. What do you offer teachers from other countries who are interested in making contacts?
We inform them of contents and educational trends in Germany. We also foster the exchange of ideas, know-how and new initiatives among European countries. It is very important to consider education – or rather learning – as something international, global. Furthermore, Schulen ans Netz is the National Support Service (NSS) of the eTwinning action, and we maintain close contact with the NSSs of other countries to put schools and their teachers in contact with one another. The information on our projects is available in English, French and Spanish.