Digital upgrade: How Germany plans cheap Internet access for all school pupils

Pupils should have affordable access to the Internet, schools need high speed broadband, while all teachers should have laptops, according to a new government plan.

Digital upgrade: How Germany plans cheap Internet access for all school pupils
Photo: DPA

It's well known that Germany is behind the times when it comes to broadband speed and connectivity.

And the coronavirus crisis exposed major digital holes in the German education system.

As pupils were forced to stay at home and lessons had to be conducted online during the lockdown, there were issues with a lack of equipment and slow connections.

Now representatives from the federal and state governments have put together a plan for a digital upgrade.

They've decided that schools should have faster WiFi connections, there must be affordable Internet access for pupils and that laptops should be available to teachers.

What's been agreed so far?

On Thursday evening, several education ministers agreed on a set of improvements with Chancellor Angela Merkel of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), Social Democrat (SPD) leader Saskia Esken and Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU).

Although an agreement was reached on the proposals, formal decisions still need to be made by the federal and state governments.

However, there are concrete plans to provide every teacher with a service laptop, and every pupil with cheap access to the Internet at a maximum cost of €10 per month. In cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Transportation, every school in Germany is to be quickly connected to fast Internet.

It's expected to cost around €500 million.

READ ALSO: More schools in Germany reopen to pupils – but with strict social distancing rules

Why is this needed?

The coronavirus pandemic revealed major problems with digitalisation in schools.

Tasks and communication via the Internet during school closures worked only to a limited extent, authorities say.

Education trade unions and teachers' associations slammed the fact that not all pupils were equipped with appropriate technology at home. The lack of equipment for teachers was also criticized.

What are the reactions to the plan?

There is cross-party support for the proposals, but some have questioned why the digital offering in schools is so far behind.

“We have achieved very good results today,” said the President of the Conference of Education Ministers (KMK) and Rhineland-Palatinate education minister, Stefanie Hubig (SPD) after Thursday's meeting.

Hamburg's senator for education, Ties Rabe (SPD), added: “It was a gratifyingly constructive discussion across the borders of the federal government, the states and the parties. We wanted to arrive at joint solutions, and we have come astonishingly far.”

Bavaria's education minister, Michael Piazolo (of the Freie Wähler) said: “This shows that the topic of school is very important to all of us.” The meeting, he said, was driven by the idea that school and education were top priorities.

CDU politician Friedrich Merz, who is a candidate for German chancellor after Merkel steps down, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Friday it is “simply unacceptable that even today not every school has a WLAN connection”.

“Germany is a developing country when it comes to digitalisation,” he added. Every school needs to have an Internet domain and every pupil as well as all teachers should have their own e-mail address on this domain, he said.

Merz called for the plans to be put into place quickly.

Will more schools close due to the pandemic?

Germany is aiming not to close schools down fully when coronavirus infections occur unless absolutely necessary. Instead, authorities may enforce partial closures to stall the spread of Covid-19 when outbreaks happen.

“There is agreement on the common goal of avoiding further complete and nationwide closures of schools and daycare centers if possible,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

KMK President Hubig said that good education policy is a task for society as a whole. “We must all ensure that our pupils can realise their right to education,” she said.

However, shortly after the start of the new term in several federal states, some schools have already had to close again due to outbreaks or as a precaution.


In the news magazine Focus, Hubig criticized the recreational behavior of many German citizens. “When I see how some adults behave on weekends in beer gardens or on the beach, I'm shocked,” she said.

“We fulfill the highest standards at schools to provide education, while others behave irrationally in their free time.”

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.