Completely unexpectedly and without any warning, it seems, the state of Hessia has decided on new Corona restrictions. The local grammar school has been forced to rebalance its teaching – half of the pupils are allowed to go to school one week, while the other half are home-schooled. And this is alternated on a weekly basis. The announcements of how home schooling will be structured and the statements of my children’s teachers at the school have moved me to share my thoughts with the school management:

Dear school management, dear responsible persons,

For a long time I have refrained from commenting, but I am no longer prepared to hold back because of the obvious incompetence regarding the implementation of remote schooling and distance learning in your institution.

As I write this, I am attending a 2-day conference that was held in a seminary location last year but had to be re-imagined this year. I work in adult education and organisational development and deal with knowledge transfer, consolidation and retention on a daily basis. The hard impact (or impact) at the beginning of the year, which in my case actually happened as early as January, has forced me, my colleagues and my entire industry to test and introduce new training and education concepts – both technically and didactically. Since May at the latest, the sector has been running virtually – live online. And surprisingly, new methods have emerged that can be quite superior to those of face-to-face teaching – first and foremost, the use of asynchrony. I don’t want to be misunderstood – I also long for face-to-face work back, because I too consider interaction with other people irreplaceable. But at the moment, it’s simply not an option.

But it can’t be the solution to then just do nothing. I understand (not) that the school was so badly prepared for “home schooling” after the Easter holidays. They rely on Apple infrastructure but then cannot open Apple documents (Pages, Keynote, Numbers). They refer to the use of commercial Microsoft programmes (Office) – the teachers demand word documents – but then do not provide access to the Office suite for under-16s. I can live with that, I can compensate for that. The fact that teachers in quarantine no longer give lessons because they are simply not connected from home is tantamount to a school closure. The fact that teachers want to do a maximum of 30 minutes of video conferencing a week without a picture is tantamount to total intellectual bankruptcy.

In fact, there is no reason why the current timetable should not be followed. In class 10, a video conference at 08:00 in the morning is not reasonable ? – this is truancy on the part of teachers and students alike. How are teachers who are simply not prepared to try out alternative forms of teaching – it doesn’t have to be perfect – who have not dealt with modern teaching formats and distance technologies in the past 6 months, supposed to impart knowledge in a school preparing for the general university entrance qualification? Or even prepare them for lifelong learning? What are our children supposed to learn from these teachers – apart from the things that are written in the book anyway and whose imparting, just like after the summer holidays, is ultimately pushed back into the family’s own responsibility.

Of course, there are highly committed, great teachers who do everything for their pupils’ development and learning. But this is obviously not a majority, otherwise the majority of the remote school system would work. The past procedure and the intro of the new implementation make us fear the loss of another school year. Perhaps voluntary extension and support courses will be offered again afterwards…

Derek Bok, lawyer, educator and former president of Harvard University, gives a wonderful piece of advice: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. Education can only be imparted by people who educate themselves. I have been noticing painfully little of that for months. Adults can work remotely for four times 90 minutes with high concentration – every day. Children can do it anyway – the medium is a constant companion for them anyway. We just have to ask them to use it differently. If a teacher announces that she will offer 30 minutes of video lessons every two weeks, then I suggest that she be paid only for the hours she teaches. I know that’s a primitive extrinsic motivator, but there’s probably nothing to be gained intellectually.

The content of lessons, school closures and contact restrictions are not within their sphere of influence. But their design is. To let classes take place or not is a decision. Breaking new ground is an attitude. And teaching children creatively is an inclination. If you can’t do all three, or can’t do them any more, then you have to ask yourself whether you are really the best choice in what you do. Or: make the decision to change yourself and rekindle the passion.
As stupid as today is, it also offers immense opportunities. Namely, the chance to put old teaching concepts to the test and try out new ones. If a lesson online goes wrong didactically, no one will tear your head off. Therefore, I would like to appeal to all teachers to use the time and dare to try something new – to regularly exchange information about their successes and fuck-ups and to learn together – so that the pupils have something to learn again.

I am happy to share experiences.

With kind regards
Dr Andreas Rein