Schools in Baden-Württemberg have been working well with the state university network BelWü for around 20 years. When classes had to be moved to the digital classroom within a very short space of time during the pandemic, the small team at BelWü spat on their hands and, in a cloak and dagger operation, launched numerous servers for schools over a full weekend.
With the open-source learning management system Moodle, which was further developed in the state with public funds, and the video conferencing system Big Blue Button, digital teaching was possible almost overnight, even for schools that had previously had little digitization. Capacity bottlenecks and technical problems were gradually worked through.
The all-round carefree companion
For some schools, the BelWü became a real all-round carefree companion through the pandemic. Competent, friendly, approachable and always fairly quick – from those who were responsible for the school’s IT during the difficult time, there was practically nothing but praise for the cooperation – and not every country had such an offer.
Now, two years later and in view of debates about further waves and possible school closures, the BelWü is announcing the schools their connections. According to the timetable, the schools should organize their access to the educational network and the administrative network on their own by August 1st. The Ministry of Education has just put the application operation of Moodle out to an external company.
The BelWü employees didn’t want that. On the contrary, supported by a handful of fellow teachers delegated by the Ministry of Education, they saw themselves as a good link between public (network) services of general interest and the schools – and would have liked to continue doing so.
The teachers who taught via Moodle do not support the Ministry of Education’s approach. Only there people think that Moodle is too complicated for teachers and students. However, the Ministry of Education has already provided a second learning management system, the proprietary Itslearning. This is by no means cost-effective.
Expand BelWü into a state education network
The parents also saw no need for the changeover. Rather, together with associations and trade unions, they fight against being thrown out and encourage the further development of the well-functioning solution with the BelWü into a state education or state school network. Of course, that would also be much cheaper than the concept of buying the various services from public and private service providers together.
The dream of a sovereign educational platform with open-source software that could be used by teachers and perhaps even older students and developed together – wouldn’t that take the idea of more autonomy and independence – and digital promotion of young talent – a step further?
Advanced arguments for the final end
All of the arguments put forward in the debate by the Ministry of Science – which is responsible for the BelWü – and the Ministry of Education seem to be pretend. The Court of Auditors does not allow the schools to be looked after by the subsidized science network – wrong. And why should the move to the more expensive municipal network provider Komm.ONE be better?
The science network must concentrate on its services for the scientific institutions in the state? With eight additional positions, which are now being advertised externally just for Moodle operation, a separate school department could probably be set up at BelWü, which could then also take over mail, domain and web services.
Monika Ermert is a freelance journalist and trained sinologist. For more than 20 years she has been reporting for heise Verlag on rules, standards and laws for the Internet and the processes in which these are developed. She lives with her family in Munich.
This is what IT teachers and parents who are behind the moving deadlines grumble most about – why should we rush to buy worse support for more money? And nobody knows how long it will be before even small digital classrooms are up and running again. “Thanks for nothing”, the teachers responsible for IT often write at the moment. This is no longer a Swabian prank, but a failure of the state.
Democratic coexistence politically undesirable
But apart from the inconvenience for the digital school in the state, for teachers and students, and those who lose their jobs at BelWü: the way in which three Green politicians, Minister of Education Theresa Schopper, her State Secretary Sandra Boser and the Minister of Science Theresia Bauer, dealing with the massive protests is not a textbook example of democratic coexistence.
If you dismiss protest letters as serial letters, simply leave the questions of those affected unanswered and meanwhile create facts through tenders, that is a prime example of the arrogance of power.
Finally, when a state parliament does not publish public petitions but keeps them secret until the end of the procedure under the pretext of data protection of the petitioners, it is a scandal.
Commitment to the community slowed down hard
Even if the Conference of Ministers of Education now thinks that one would like to do without further distance learning, the digital classroom could soon be used again. If you think that externally hired Moodle or Itslearning supervisors or support staff at private network operators then work through nights and weekends, you have certainly made a mistake.
There are things that cannot be paid for with money. The commitment and enthusiasm of a community that binds IT, school and science together is part of it; and also the willingness to work for a community in which one is heard.
How should digitization be implemented in our schools? How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting what is happening? What was achieved in the 2020/2021 school year – what happened next in 2021/2022? This is what our series of articles aims to shed light on.
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