With an “eight-point plan” to catapult Austria’s schools into the digital age, Education Minister Heinz Faßmann and Digitization Minister Margarete Schramböck (both ÖVP) yesterday (June 17) announced a €200 million package to set things in motion, according to a report in the daily Kleine Zeitung.
The central plank of the package is to equip all children in the 5th grade – 1st grade middle school (NMS) or high school (Gymnasium) – with digital devices (laptops or tablets) from 2021/2022 onwards. The devices will not be entirely for free, as there will be a share to pay by parents, according to their income. In return, pupils can keep and use the devices permanently, also during summer and after they finished school.
Yet even for high-earners, the devices are likely be heavily subsidized by the Austrian republic. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) compared the initiative to Bruno Kreisky’s “textbook campaign” (Schulbuchaktion) in the 1970s; the long-time SPÖ chancellor established the practice of giving textbooks to high school students for free or with only a very small charge – a measure as popular today as it was then.
The Digital Classroom Becomes Reality
The devices, in conjunction with several other measures, should help make the often-touted “digital classroom” a reality. Here are the eight measures, as announced by the government:
- Starting in 2020/21, there will be an online portal “Digital School” that is currently being developed. The portal will integrate several essential school applications, including the digital class register (digitales Klassenbuch), the notebook for communication between teachers and parents (Mitteilungsheft) and grade management. With these, the analogue class registers and notebooks for informing parents are to be a thing of the past. Digital communication with students and parents should also be integrated and streamlined.
- One lesson from the coronavirus lockdown, said Faßmann, was that there had been a uncoordinated growth of teaching and learning platforms. In the future, every school should choose one platform which all the teachers and classes will work with.
- The digital teaching materials for the in-service training of teachers are being revised. According to Faßmann, “film-oriented artists” are to be involved in the creation of Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs), in addition to the pedagogical academies.
- The Eduthek, where teachers can access digital teaching content, should be better categorized and brought into line with current curricula.
- In the future, the Ministry of Education wants to distribute a seal of approval for learning apps, to make clear the subjects and pupils for which an app is suited.
- The school IT infrastructure is to be expanded. About 65 percent of the federal schools are currently connected to fiber optic networks, this is planned to be expanded to 100 percent by 2023.
- In the future there will be a central license management for educational software. “Using pirated copies is unacceptable in everyday school life,” Faßmann said.
- As explained above, every Gymnasium first-grader will get their own digital device (laptop or table) for personal use.