On August 1st, Baden-Württemberg’s state university network BelWü will switch off the access of many schools to the administrative and educational network. Thousands of primary and secondary schools in the state are affected by the forced shutdown. In a last, desperate appeal, many of those affected are currently turning to the responsible ministries with a proposal to have the school services provided by a special department of the state science network. The ministries speak of poorly informed serial letters and want to stay on course for their education platform.
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.
Focus on science and research area
For all schools that are connected to the BelWü science network via DSL/cable connections, [email protected]ü will end on August 1st, 2022. The BelWü routers, which they used to access the administration network and the educational network, are switched off. There is a period of grace for schools that are connected directly to BelWü routers at a local university via fiber optics.
The step is part of the expulsion of schools from the state’s science network, which was announced last year. When asked by heise online, the responsible Ministry for Science and Art (MWK) explained that this must focus on its tasks for the science and research sector. It “cannot provide non-network-specific basic services for third parties in the long term.” According to a spokeswoman, the reorientation is necessary in order to meet challenges in the area of network and information security and to initiate “the next innovative steps for a competitive science network”.
List of supply of the schools by BelWü according to services.
(Image: Labor Report 98, October 2021)
Schools looking for a new connection
In the past few weeks, numerous schools, teachers and school IT specialists have apparently written letters of protest to the MWK, the Ministry of Culture, the current chairman of the “Working Group of Managers of Scientific Data Centers in Baden-Württemberg” (ALWR) and even their national father in Stuttgart. They describe the consequences of the expulsion as dramatic.
“For each school affected (there are well over 2000 schools), a new administration connection has to be found, the servers and the software for the teaching networks have to be completely reconfigured, websites and e-mail accounts have to go to other (also private) providers to be moved.”
More work, less service, higher costs
Apart from the fact that this involves a lot of work for the teachers, who have been hit by the pandemic and the wave of refugees, the authors of the letters warn that it will be more expensive for the schools if the service is poor. Many schools in the country have already experienced this with great suffering. Example calculations in the relevant forum Linuxmuster.net calculated a price that is up to 16 times higher when choosing the municipal network provider komm.ONE, which is recommended as an alternative, and which many are skeptical of because of its participation in the failed Ella education platform.
In addition, the monthly costs of the komm.ONE Internet connections are hardly justifiable to the school authorities. These are comparatively high at EUR 1,400 for fiber optics or EUR 145 for 100/20 Mbit/s DSL lines, calculated some time ago Holger Baumhof, who is responsible for network support at the Karlsruhe Seminar for Education and Training.
Plural to Vodafone
The majority of those who intensively exchange ideas about new solutions at the forum will therefore probably move to Vodafone. There are still extra agreements because of required IP addresses necessary. The pricing is more transparent and cheaper. The larger BelWü connections for 400 euros a year – including Moodle sites and web services – will probably be mourned for a long time.
It is quite conceivable, the spokeswoman for the MWK remarked, that “the school authorities would find common solutions for standard market services and bundle them” via Komm.One, for example. The fact that the BelWü offered so cheaply is ultimately due to cross-subsidization – and the state audit office expressly criticized this, writes the ministry.
Services before and after.
(Image: ARGE Tübingen)
Irrational sensitivities, not practical constraints
In their letters, however, the critics point out that the Court of Auditors has by no means fundamentally questioned the supply of schools by the state science network. “With its competence, the BelWü can contribute to quick and flexible solutions, as it has proven in the supply of the schools,” says the memorandum of the auditors, to which the MWK and the Ministry of Education refer. In addition, the auditors write: “If the BelWü can ensure better care than other service providers due to its competence, its work can also be quite sensible and economical outside of the narrower scientific customer group,” writes the Court of Auditors, however.
It is hard to imagine that the public authorities will ultimately be able to offer the services more effectively and more economically than the BelWü, which has 28 employees including its eight seconded teachers. The BelWü, which is very lean compared to Komm.ONE and the state IT service provider BitBW, paved the way for many schools to start distance learning at the beginning of the pandemic. The fact that some of the IT “heroes” of the pandemic now have to reckon with layoffs does not lift the spirits much, reports the BelWü in the latest activity report.
The letters of complaint say that the reasons for throwing the schools out are not practical constraints, but irrational sensitivities in the ministries. “There is simply a lack of political will,” emphasizes Stephan Ertle, chairman of the working group of high school parents (ARGE) in the administrative district of Tübingen, to heise online. ARGE Tübingen is one of more than a dozen organizations that, with their proposal to the ministry, would like to save schools in the state from being forced to relocate, or fear that some schools will not be connected to the administrative and educational network on August 1st because they just didn’t manage to switch in time.
False information, serial letters
MWK and KM spokespersons said the concern was unfounded. Central components such as the learning management system Moodle or official e-mail addresses for teachers do not have to be moved at the moment, the spokeswoman for the MWK assures. The KM has promised to provide appropriate services in the future. Until then, the services mentioned would continue to be operated by the BelWü. In this respect, the current letters that had reached the ministry were based on false information.
The BelWü timetable provides for the successive discontinuation of web services. Support for schools’ own mail servers will also end on August 1, 2022. The longer transition period applies to e-mail accounts at the BelWü, which are then to be replaced by new, business e-mail accounts on the education platform. It’s still a while, and e-mails for the students are not planned for the time being, says a spokesman for the KM.
On course towards Ella2
The new education platform will be built up modularly, a single sign-on portal is about to enter the pilot phase, assures the KM spokesman and also defends that instead of a single learning management system, the open-source system Moodle, the commercial ItsLearning is also included took offer. The commercial product is “less bulky” than Moodle, says the spokesman.
Moodle requires more expert knowledge and the acceptance by the schools, of which around 1000 are already using the new system, proves this. Moodle is currently being used by about twice as many, he says. The BelWü currently has around 5172 Moodle instances (including universities) with around 730,000 users and 13 million hits per day.
Despite all the criticism of KM and MWK, the current protests will no longer lead to changes, according to the KM spokesman. Rather, they will stay on course for the planned education platform, even if the recent cancellation of the use of Microsoft 365 by the state commissioner for data protection will again cause certain delays.
It remains to be seen whether a petition to the state parliament that has been running since January will change anything. The petition has not yet been approved and, by the way, cannot be found on the state parliament’s website – “for data protection reasons!”, as a spokeswoman for the state parliament explains.
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