A lot doesn’t necessarily help a lot – the city of Wuppertal has had this experience when equipping schools with tablets and is now under pressure to put several thousand iPads into operation in schools within a few weeks or to repay several million euros. The city received funding from the European Union to purchase the devices. It was hoped that the huge investment would significantly advance the digitalization of schools. The devices should be loaned to the students. However, a large part was apparently never put into operation.
“The schools’ IT equipment is making progress,” was the headline of the city of Wuppertal on its website in November 2022, and Mayor Uwe Schneiderwind was pleased that the devices had been delivered despite the difficult procurement situation. As in many other cities, it became clear during the lockdown phases of the corona pandemic that schools were poorly equipped digitally and homeschooling could only be set up with a lot of improvisation skills.
Lots of money for equipment, no money for support
However, WDR is now reporting that 60 percent of the devices purchased are not even in operation today. The city financed and purchased a total of 14,000 iPads. The funding volume is 9 million euros. Like other municipalities, Wuppertal accessed funds from the “EU REACT funding package”. The funding pot was hastily launched by the EU to “support crisis management in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic and its social consequences”.
The EU funds subsidized each device with up to 500 euros. The problem: Expenses for maintenance, support and operation of mobile devices as well as personnel expenses are not eligible, the guidelines state. The city and the schools themselves have to take care of this. As early as November 2022, the city complained that support costs had increased significantly – but follow-up financing was not in sight.
Schools feel overwhelmed
According to WDR, the responsible district government of the city has now set a deadline of October 23rd to either install the unused devices and lend them to the students – or to repay funding. The city, in turn, has passed the pressure on to the schools – by September 29th they should issue the devices to the students via “Mobile Device Management”. Beforehand, the parents must sign an eight-page loan agreement, which, among other things, clarifies liability issues, reports the Education and Science Union (GEW).
According to the teachers’ union, only eight of 37 schools are able to meet the requirements. Primary schools in particular find themselves overwhelmed by the mammoth task. Each device takes about 30 minutes to set up, they say. With hundreds or thousands of devices per school, this cannot be achieved with the existing staff. The union is passing the ball back to the city. This is responsible and has had enough time to take care of it centrally since it was assigned in October 2021. Instead, only nine-page, complicated instructions were sent. The city, in turn, told WDR that the city’s IT had not been requested or used by the schools.
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