“It is the infrastructure, stupid.”*

July 5th, 2015 by in Opinion

Whenever I talk about digitalization of education in schools, I hear all kinds of interesting, smart and not so smart statements why we do not see a huge adoption of digital devices and apps in the classroom.

Reasons range from teachers are too conservative, students would be overwhelmed, publishers do not offer suitable content, not enough funding, innovative ideas are lacking, it is not possible because of data protection or copyright regulation, the professional and advanced training for teachers is lacking, “digital” is not tightly knitted in the curriculum at universities for teachers in spe and so on. That all might be the case and add to the status quo, BUT as of now it is not possible to create sustainable business models that contain fully digital content and are aimed at the regular school around the corner in German speaking markets.

British/American comedian John Oliver defines infrastructure in one episode of LastWeekTonight:   “It’s our Roads, Bridges, Dams, Levees, Airports, Power Grids – basically anything that can be destroyed in an action movie[…]” and continues with quoting former NYC major Michael Bloomberg with: “As you know, infrastructure is not a sexy or glamorous topic”.

Oliver forgot to mention access to the internet, but the unsexiness of the topic is also true to discussions about digital education. Nevertheless, if one wants more digital in education, infrastructure has to be given. (I am not talking about one of the few light house schools where hardware companies sponsor tablets and politicians like to take photos for the local newspaper)

From my experience one single thing is missing in Germany: internet infrastructure at scale.
What do I mean by that: well, almost every school has internet access – that is not the question. But almost no school has enough bandwidth to let 100 students at the same time stream a video on YouTube or upload own videos to whatever cloud. If you have 500 students access a simple website at the same time, most connections in German schools will be over capacity.

Not only is there a lack of a decent internet connection, but dedicated staff to take care of the network are missing as well. Just image any mid-sized company with 500 workplaces equipped with desktop-PCs. Of course, you will find an IT department, of course you will find some sort of helpdesk or a person responsible for trouble shooting. Many schools have more than 500 students and teachers being there at the same time. When they all want to be connected with the internet with their device, you are having 500 connected workplaces. Not counting extra tablets, mobiles, wearables …

As long as there is not sufficient funding or the basic infrastructure available to offer a proper high-speed connection, stable Wi-Fi and dedicated support staff, we will not have digital solutions at scale within our schools.

Only when the infrastructure problem is solved, a market can be created, it would makes sense for publishers and alike to think about more engaging digital content that might lead to adaptive learning solutions …
Only when teachers have the basic capability to access the internet on a reliable basis in their class, they will spent time and resources to develop suitable formats to blend it within their class-concepts.

If we want to open our schools for the chances of digitalization, our legislators must heavily invest in infrastructure. Then the whole discussion about digital education can start – and only then.


*A slight variation of James Carville’s phrase from Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign “The economy, stupid”

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