Digitisation in education – top marks or a contradiction?

Where does education stand in times of digitalization?

In the meantime, it is no longer possible to escape digital change. Whether in the world of work, in private life or in society: Digital technologies and applications are used everywhere and their application is promoted. In this way, digitalisation is gradually also having an impact on education. Digitisation and the innovations that accompany it require many unprecedented skills and ways of thinking. This also means an end to the Cretaceous period for education in order to prepare the students optimally for their future lives. This is undisputed. But exactly how digitization should look like in education and whether its effects are rather positive or negative is hotly debated. The timing of when children should come into contact with the digital world is also controversial. However, digital transformation will ultimately affect all areas of education. Early childhood education, schooling, study and adult education are undergoing many changes at the moment. With this article, we want to clarify what these look like, what their advantages are and what challenges to overcome. We are looking at digitisation in schools in particular, as it is a large part of the education sector that each individual goes through.

Education 4.0

As industry evolves towards Industry 4.0, education is also changing to education 4.0. It is based on an interdisciplinary concept and prepares students for the requirements of Industry 4.0. Important areas for achieving the “fourth stage” in education are media literacy, understanding of computer science, data use and networking. Education 4.0 is made possible above all by the development and use of new technologies.

Facts and figures on the current status of digitalisation in education

What about the state of digitalization in schools? Unfortunately, schools in Germany are hardly digital and lag far behind in international comparison. Only four percent of students in Germany use digital media every day in their classes. The rest of the lesson is still analogous. Only a quarter of schools also have stable Wi-Fi and about 17 percent of schools use a learning platform for exchange between teachers and students. Studies dealing with the digital skills of pupils place German and Austrian children and young people in the midfield. Anyway. However, with the previous figures in mind, these skills appear to be acquired outside school. The PISA study is similarly mediocre. Even in basic skills such as reading and writing, students have some catching up to do. So how can these gaps be closed? With the current education system, this does not seem to work optimally. An alternative could be to harness the achievements of digital transformation. A look at neighbouring countries brings a completely new perspective to the use of new media: in Europe, Denmark is one of the role models for digitisation in schools. Here, students have their own laptops on which they work on tasks, research, take notes and write housework. The educational standard in Denmark is also very high and it seems that digitisation has a positive impact on the education of pupils.

Why should the education sector digitise in the first place?

Despite all the criticism of digitalization,there are still more reasons for digital schools. First of all, technical skills are an important prerequisite for success in later professional life. The school should therefore teach them and not leave it to chance or to the parents whether technical know-how is promoted. In this way, all pupils have the same conditions and opportunities in the future labour market.

By integrating digital media into schools, technology is not only passively consumed, but is also learned as a tool to solve problems. This is an important basic attitude that is conveyed to students and a rethink that is needed to move forward as a society in times of digitalization.

But new subjects can also emerge in the course of the digital transformation and should be taught appropriately at school. Many schools already have these subjects in their programmes and are showing great success. Programming, building computer elements yourself, 3D printing or computational thinking, i.e. the practical application of algorithms and programs, are just a few of the examples.

With regard to the labour market that pupils will face, they must also be prepared for new jobs. Routine tasks are disappearing more and more and are taken over by robots and automation programs. Skills needed to carry out these recurring activities therefore no longer need to be trained. Much more important is the focus on critical thinking, communication, creativity and cooperation. These are activities that cannot be taken over by machines, but are again increasingly demanded due to the elimination of routine tasks. Despite the use of new technologies and countless machines, the focus is once again more on interpersonal aspects. These competences should therefore be promoted among pupils, more than has been the case in the past. This can enable digitisation in schools.

Frontal teaching has not yet shown the desired successes, but is still being practiced for the lack of alternatives. Digital tools make it possible to teach less in-frontal education. Holistic learning comes to the fore and also creates a relief and more success experiences for teachers.

Benefits of Digitalization in Education

Digitisation in education has many advantages. Here we want to go into a few in more detail. In particular, the clarity of the teaching material is greatly improved by digital methods. The closeness of a city tour in ancient Athens with virtual reality glasses, for example, is much better than just looking at ancient Athens on a drawing. Students can be so much more enthusiastic about the subject matter and the motivation to learn increases.

Digitisation also offers a very special advantage for teachers. In difficult student questions, they often had to be comforted for the next hour and the question or interest was lost until then. A simple search on the Internet now makes it possible to have direct answers to complex student questions in a few seconds, perhaps even with picture or video.

The administration of a school is also much easier. Class books, teacher scheduling, schedules, grades and absences are simply kept online and can be accessed at any time and from anywhere. Teachers can all access the same management system. This saves time, creates a better overview and important information is no longer lost.

This also saves a lot of paper and a lot of space. Documents no longer have to be stored in entire archives, but can be stored online. This also makes it easier to find.

Another advantage is the possibility to create and use an individual funding offer. Online tutoring platforms, online language lessons with native speakers, computer games for knowledge transfer or various online courses depending on the interest of the students make this possible. This is practical for both parents and teachers, as the digital offer is often cheaper and yet higher-quality than, for example, traditional tutoring lessons. It is also available 24 hours a day. In this way, each student can be individually supported, regardless of the general conditions and living conditions.

Furthermore, learning at your own speed and the repetition of school material as required, e.g. through the use of tablets, is possible. In foreign language teaching, for example, children can choose from different topics and work on the tasks in accordance with their area of interest. In this way, less language-enthusiastic students can be motivated for the respective foreign language.

Machines also make it possible to make an objective assessment of learning progress. People are unconsciously biased and can never judge 100% objectively. Machines analyze sources of error, learning progress and typical challenges that a student faces, precisely and without evaluation.

Finally, free education can lead to democratisation of education. Many studies are now possible as distance learning and do not charge tuition fees, even online courses on every imaginable topic often cost nothing or very little. Access is also possible from anywhere, including from rural areas, which normally have only a standard supply of education.

What new applications are available in education as a way of digitisation?

As with the advantages, there are a wealth of new applications. A popular first step towards digitalization is the digital tablet. It is connected and interactive to the Internet and other devices.

Smartphones are also being used more and more purposefully. In art lessons, for example, own works can be photographed and shared and discussed on platforms, and speeches and readings by authors and politicians themselves can be listened to and analyzed instead of just reading them from a textbook.

For example, simulation programs go a step further to calculate and predict the effects of a particular action. Stuffed animals or bone models for science lessons are replaced by video animations or even augmented reality, making the material even more vivid and interactive.

Many museums now also offer virtual tours and students can experience famous museums digitally together with the teachers.

Another area of application is gamification. It’s all about learning to play. Apps, quiz zoning programs or small online competitions can give a whole new perspective and create fun on the subject.

As already mentioned briefly, virtual reality also has many uses in the classroom. Travelling through space to learn more about planets, roam the jungle in search of exotic animals, or experience the French Revolution “on the spot” are exciting opportunities for students to explore the subject.

Finally, algorithms can be used to analyze student learning types. Does each student learn more visually or auditory? Does the student always have difficulties with the same kind of problems? Does he learn better alone or in groups? Based on this analysis, individual learning programs could then be put together for each student. Even talents could be identified and specifically promoted. With regard to the later career choice or choice of course of study, appropriate recommendations can also be made.

Will teachers and staff now be replaced by machines as a means of digitisation in education?

Clearly, fewer staff will be needed for administration and routine activities in the future. In most cases, however, teachers have taken over these activities on the side and thus experience an exemption from tasks that they probably do not necessarily want to do anyway. You can focus more on the essentials, human contact. In problem situations, they again have more time to provide help to the students and to propose individual support opportunities for the pupils. The independent appropriation of knowledge and motivation can also be taught almost exclusively by “real” teachers. The critical reflection of (digital) content can also arise much better in the personal engagement with teachers, which is why these do not become obsolete.

New job profiles are also created by digitalization. The demand for online tutors, developers of digital educational applications, etc. is likely to increase rather than decrease.

Challenges in the digitisation of education

Of course, there are also some challenges facing the education sector. First of all, the topic of digitalization raises many financial questions. For example, does the educational institution provide all devices or does everyone bring their own device? The latter would increase inequality and reduce opportunities for children from low-income families. There is no ideal solution here yet.

The ability to concentrate is also diminished by digitalization and many students already have problems reading longer texts. This must be counteracted, despite the use of new technologies.

Content is also better remembered if you actively do something with them, i.e. write them off the board, for example. Here, too, creative solutions still need to be found, which is certainly possible due to the new-found clarity, tension and closeness to life.

The risk of cheating is also often mentioned as a risk, but plagiarism software or digital controls already minimize this. Another challenge is the constant distraction from social media, WhatsApp and co. Measures, however, would be Internet filters, classic penalties or programs that track activity on the Internet. On the other hand, students must learn to use their devices responsibly. The sooner they learn this responsible approach, the better.

There is no way around digitalisation in education

Since digitalisation already affects our entire lives, schools must not shy away from it either. On the contrary, young people need to be prepared for the challenges of a digital world. A sensible use of digital technologies and not a constant presence of this or even dependence of these is the be-all and end-all. Here, however, adults also have to grab their own noses and may even be able to learn from younger generations over time.