Will there be school education in 2020?


The school closings caught the education administration, schools, teachers and parents unprepared. It was the heads of government of the federal states who ordered schools to be closed from mid-March 2020 and pushed aside the previous resolution of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs to avoid a general school closure. [1] Only at the end of the summer vacation should the schools gradually return to normal operations. But even then it became clear that there will be no going back to teaching like before the corona pandemic for the foreseeable future. Not only do country-specific hygiene rules apply when returning to face-to-face classes. It is also foreseeable that individual school closings will occur again and again.

So it is important to learn lessons from the time when schools were closed. What went well, what went less well? What can be learned from the experience? Are there perhaps even innovations that were triggered by the pandemic? [2] In the following, I will take an initial balance sheet, including the perspectives of parents, teachers and school children. The focus is on pedagogical practice during school closings, i.e. home or distance learning, often - not quite correctly - referred to as "homeschooling" [3]. In addition to quantitative findings, results from our own qualitative study from East Wuerttemberg are presented.

Consequences of the school closings

The months of the school closings were marked by great fears and fears. The school policy discussion can be grouped into four topics: first, the long-term consequences of school closings for schoolchildren, Secondly, the danger of a growing educational gap, third, Concerns about increasing gender inequality and, fourth, the potential of digital distance learning in German schools.

Of course, possible disadvantages for the educational careers and labor market opportunities of the children and young people affected by the school closings cannot yet be determined. They depend on the effectiveness of "learning at a distance" as well as on future developments in the labor market. Nevertheless, available studies indicate that noticeable individual and macroeconomic follow-up costs can hardly be avoided in the event of longer school closings. [4]

Expectations are also clear with regard to educational inequality: on the one hand, children from educationally disadvantaged homes need school support even more than others, on the other hand, parents with an academic background often help their children with schoolwork In all probability intensify the crisis. Parents who have had a difficult school biography themselves are less able to support their children, especially since students from socio-economically disadvantaged families rarely have a quiet job. [7]

The question of growing gender injustice is more controversial. [8] In so-called systemically relevant professions, there are an above-average number of women whose children were provided with emergency care. The family and couple-related effects are likely to be different for different occupational groups. While in many families the day-care center and school closings meant that mothers took on a larger share of childcare, [9] for "a small group" of parents the greater use of the home office in the Corona crisis could lead to a "more egalitarian division of labor in the long term "lead. [10] An analysis of so-called scientific preprints - these are preprints of scientific publications (before the end of the review) - in turn indicates that the research productivity of women fell far more sharply than of men during the contact restrictions. [11] That could seriously affect the careers of the young scientists.

With regard to the digitization of teaching, the federal and state governments, after a tough struggle, decided in 2018 to give schools more support ("digital pact"). One year after the relevant legal regulations, it can be seen that the schools received little of the five billion euros in funding. [12] In a representative survey commissioned by the Vodafone Foundation Germany [13] in April 2020, 310 teachers were asked about the status of digitization in their schools. Only a third stated that their school had an overall concept for digital teaching. A quarter of the teachers were left to their own devices during the time of crisis when it came to implementing the teaching content and would like more support from the school management or the responsible authorities. Is that a lot or a little? It is undisputed that Germany lags behind in IT equipment (equipment with mobile devices, school WiFi, internet-based applications for collaborative work, IT support) in an international comparison. But it is also correct that the computer and information-related skills of German eighth graders are above the international average. [14]

School lessons under Corona conditions

70 percent of the teachers surveyed in April 2020 stated that their learning offers reach the students, although the desired use of digital learning units often fails due to the technical equipment of the students. [15] The statement that a third of the teachers did not manage to maintain constant contact with the students must cause concern. The exchange between teachers and young people took place through various channels, some of which were used in parallel. Online platforms and e-mail were used in particular. Half of the high school students were provided with learning material on a daily basis; with less than 10 percent this was not the case at least once a week. In other types of schools, the contact between teachers and children and young people was less close. [16] The density of material mailings and communication channels was also confirmed by an online parenting survey conducted by the University of M├╝nster in April / May 2020 with 6685 respondents. [17]

A majority of the students did significantly less for the school during digital distance learning, even under favorable domestic conditions. An online survey by the Institute for Employment Research among more than 1000 high school students of the two final years in a total of eight federal states showed that more than one in three young people spent less than two hours per day on school activities. [18] This is especially true for pupils with a grade point average below 2.5 in the subjects German, mathematics and English. It turned out that the more often the pupils were in contact with the school, the more time they invested in school activities.

Overall, the parents surveyed were largely satisfied. [19] The lowest satisfaction was found with the digital offers used, with which 35.8 percent were (somewhat) dissatisfied. Given the current digital equipment in schools, this is not a surprising result. [20] After the experiences in the "lockdown", parents do not seem to be particularly convinced of the possibilities of digital teaching: 65 percent of parents of school-age children agree with the statement, "In my opinion the crisis has shown that digital teaching can only be an emergency solution. The opportunities offered by digital lessons are overstated, and digital lessons cannot even come close to replacing regular school lessons in the future. " The opposing position, according to which the crisis had shown "what possibilities digital teaching offers and we should therefore promote digitalization more," was only affirmed by 29 percent. [21] According to a study by the Educational Science working group at the University of Konstanz, 79 percent of the parents questioned (around 1500 families) felt they were professionally up to their role as "auxiliary teachers". [22] We could not confirm this result, which, as the authors note, is due to the social structure of the participating parents, in our own study.

Table: total and partial samples (& copy bpb)

Findings from East Wuerttemberg

In a project seminar [23] in July 2020, we conducted a total of 62 guided interviews and supplemented them with standardized surveys (table). As a rule, the respondents came from East W├╝rttemberg. Care was taken to include all types of school and different types of family life (type of household and family, number of children, employment, social status). However, no claim to representativeness can be made - not even for East Wuerttemberg.

The research questions were: How do those affected - school administrators, teachers, parents, pupils - cope with home-schooling induced by the corona pandemic? How does school closure affect everyday family life with regard to learning? How do parents and children deal with it? What kind of support do they get? How do the children and young people see it themselves? Do the teachers manage to maintain a structured approach to their students? Which support systems do they use, which didactic measures do they use? And last but not least: Are there any positive experiences that can be used for the further development of your schools? [24]

Family situation
The parents were suddenly faced with challenges that not only related to the school tasks to be dealt with. Many parents felt stressed by the double burden of work and family during the corona peak. In addition to the multiple burden, there was the difficulty of encouraging the children to learn independently. Great dissatisfaction was also evident with regard to parental leisure time.

Parents suddenly took over teaching duties and reached their limits in the process. For the most part, they have orientated themselves to normal school life in terms of organization: wherever possible, they tried to do tasks with the children in the morning after breakfast.

Parents with several school-age children apparently observed very closely what the various teachers were doing and expressed this in conversations with one another or with the teacher. In general, parents complained that the children had problems studying for several hours at a time in their home environment, as happens in everyday school life. On the one hand, schoolchildren experienced more pressure from educated parents, whereas other children received less pressure, but also less support.

The advantages of "homeschooling" were also named. One mother reported that her child got along much better emotionally than in school, because there it was very much distracted by other children in class ("class clown"). Community school parents, of whom only a few were interviewed, reported that their children were used to working independently. [25] "More flexible time management and less time pressure" and a better insight into the learning status and school assignments were noted as positive.

View of the children and adolescents
What is particularly noticeable among schoolchildren is the very low proportion who stated that they enjoyed their time at home "good" or even "very good". Even with elementary school children, the joy of "more time with mom" sank "from week to week". As one student put it in a nutshell: "What annoys me most about school at home is that I am so unmotivated and listless at times." "The roof falls" on their heads "and they want" the old normal life "back.

Indeed, children and young people tend to miss school relatively quickly, less as a place of learning, but rather as a place of encounter, everyday structuring and social experience. But the children and adolescents also mentioned advantages ("sleeping in", "no morning stress", "own pace", "not always chewing everything x times"). Some children reported that they found "math better" now because they "had more time to think" or "because (...) we [do] something completely new". Many praised the fact that their teachers were always available to answer questions directly and quickly.

Schools and teachers
Contrary to our expectations, it turned out that in most schools neither the technical equipment nor the digital skills were the main problem for the schools or teachers. Rather, the lack of equipment in the families was pointed out. Occasionally the schools made it possible, also through extracurricular cooperation, to make end devices available to families where they were needed. However, teachers found it particularly problematic when it was not possible to establish and maintain contact with individual children or their parents. While many teachers actively tried to reach out to hard-to-reach families, there were also resigned and disparaging statements about "lazy children" and "unwilling parents". On the contrary, others criticized (too) high parental standards.

Quite a few teachers felt overwhelmed. You pointed to insufficient support in the digital area. Her working hours have tended to be longer ("Search for suitable explanatory videos or even creating your own videos", "more individual support"). In addition, a lesson must be planned much more precisely, "since the attention of the pupils [pupils] in the video conferences quickly disappears". Several teachers wanted a clear framework from the state, but within these fixed cornerstones more room for maneuver and freedom of design for their schools. School administrators were in constant use. They complained about the communication with the Ministry of Culture, which had resulted in a flood of circulars. Additional hours for the targeted support of weak pupils and better digital equipment were desired.

With regard to the in-school organization (e.g. teamwork, division of labor) there were contradicting statements. It is reported that "most of the quorum has become invisible". On the other hand, there were schools in which the staff mutually "supported each other with the material they had created or in dealing with the learning platform". Teachers used numerous communication media, online portals and digital applications that were different across schools and school types. The difference between regular schools and special schools is also noticeable. In the latter, analog packets were used, which were supported by regular (control) telephone calls. Questions of data protection were mostly dealt with pragmatically, otherwise distance learning would not be possible in view of the many communication apps, learning and video platforms. [26]

Independent learning worked relatively well for good students, while weaker students had greater difficulties. This worries the teachers: "The differences between families are far too great here and are made even greater by this type of teaching." In other words: "Social differences that have always been there are now even more apparent".

Teachers have also had positive experiences with homeschooling. There is now more time for necessary exercises. Some teachers report better communication and closer cooperation with parents and students as a positive experience. The one-on-one interviews could have addressed the needs of the students individually. Overall, the majority are of the opinion that the teacher-student relationship did not suffer from "homeschooling".

There were also reports of (self-) learning effects: "I now trust myself a lot more in the digital world. The whole thing is not witchcraft." This is also indicated by the fact that communication was often only carried out via e-mail at first, for example to send worksheets, but in the course of time other technical options were also used with increasing skill. Quite a few teachers report that they keep certain innovations. As one teacher put it aptly and at the same time restrictively: "Digitization has made a big leap forward, but not to the same extent everywhere and at the expense of individual colleagues who already know their way around this area." The question of whether face-to-face teaching could be wholly or partly replaced by other forms of learning in the future was flatly answered in the negative. That is a "pipe dream". School is a social structure with personal relationships, contacts and haptic experiences that can only be conveyed live. Social learning is completely eliminated in distance learning.

A first conclusion

In summary, it can be said that the majority of the parents surveyed were satisfied with the way the school organized "homeschooling" and the support provided by the teachers. It turned out to be a particular challenge (from the parents' point of view) to keep their children's motivation to learn. In this respect, one can say that schools and teachers have lived up to their (personal) responsibility. It goes without saying that a lot could have been better.

Many teachers have embraced new technologies, often surprising themselves. Education policy and education administration would have every reason to trust "their" schools more. While in Germany only 13 percent of all relevant decisions (this includes, for example, the selection of teachers or the preparation of a school budget) are made on site in schools, the figure is significantly higher in more successful PISA countries. [27] Instead of taking care of the fine-tuning, the ministries of culture should concentrate on providing the necessary work resources, above all sufficient staff.

On the other hand, according to our survey, there are no indications that the Corona crisis could act as a catalyst to promote unfinished educational reforms. The level of digitization in schools will undoubtedly experience an acceleration; but this has long been on the agenda. Some didactic innovations, for example with regard to the variety of support options in distance learning, will continue beyond distance learning. But the "grammar of the school" proves to be crisis-resistant. The rightly demanded reorientation of cooperation and communication patterns on several levels of school organization [28] was not visible in our data. This is perhaps not surprising, since in times of crisis, well-established routines are the first thing to fall back on.

The Corona crisis made it abundantly clear that schools are not just a place of learning, but also a place to meet social needs and practice psychosocial skills. This function cannot replace the best digital equipment. Therefore, in conclusion, two suggestions that, although they cannot be deduced directly from our data, could help to make schools (even) better and more crisis-proof.
  1. On the one hand, digital distance learning has shown the importance of independent learning. Self-directed learning must therefore be more firmly anchored. On the other hand, however, we know that open forms of teaching often do not do justice to the less able. One possibility of integrating elements of open teaching into the school without their disadvantages could be the use of so-called life skills programs. Such everyday skills that strengthen personal resources (life skills) can also promote subjects such as music, sport, nutrition and art, which are often underestimated by parents in particular, which also help children to learn headsubjects perform better. [29]
  2. If the school closes again, contact with a family cannot be lost. In such a scenario, teachers need support. Similar to the way in which the health authorities use contact person investigators ("containment scouts") to track down Covid 19 infection chains, the schools should have "contact scouts" available. [30] Such an arrangement would also help to open up the school to the social area.