During a press conference at the Gymnasium Diefenbachgasse on Jun 21, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Education minister Heinz Faßmann announced concrete plans for the digital offensive they presented a year ago, promising that laptops or tablets will soon be made accessible for every Austrian pupil who needs one, with students retaining ownership. The devices – either new or refurbished, with the final choice lying with individual schools – will be 75% subsidized, meaning that families will have to pay about €100 per computer, depending on the model; underprivileged families may even apply for the fee to be waived entirely, receiving their devices free of charge. In addition, Kurz and Faßmann also announced that all federally-funded schools will receive fiber optic-based broadband internet by 2023.
So far, 93% of schools across the country have requested digital devices for their 5th- and 6th graders by sending a “letter of intent” to the ministry, which included accepting commitments to provide further technical training to their teachers. With the majority asking for Windows notebooks (42 %),followed by iPads (27%) and Windows tablets (22%), not all devices will arrive by the end of summer vacation, but the government has committed to a timeline promising delivery by the end of the winter semester (September to January). Schools will also receive up to three devices per class to accommodate this the new way of learning.
To ensure that students will not be overly distracted, teachers will be able to regulate internet access during class, as well as share their screen on the whiteboard for the entire class to see. Abiding to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, teachers will not be able to access a pupil’s personal data.
Budgeted at €250 million, the opposition did not waste any time responding. The SPÖ’s spokeswoman, Petra Vorderwinkler criticized the 25% deductible for parents and the timing of delivery, saying that “the peak of the pandemic is already over.” The NEOS’ leader, Beate Meinl-Reisinger, also commented on the timing of the initiative, calling it “shameful” that the administration is only reacting now; she also mentioned the lack of infrastructure in place and called for better preparation, more staff and better training.