Professor Thomas Straubhaar – Economics lecturer at the University of Hamburg, member of the Board of Trustees of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Fellow of the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, D. C., Hamburg

// Digitalisation is far more than just a technical challenge

What things will you remember most about the pandemic year 2020?


The same worrying things that most people will remember – the enormous suffering and sad- ness caused by COVID-19, first of all, but also the indirect harm caused by the government’s coronavirus policies. When children and students aren’t able to attend class and have no access to regular lessons, the long-term impacts are considerable. It may even take a lifetime for them to catch up on the things they have missed out on as a result of school closures and amateurish distance learning concepts. Not only will they have gaps in their knowledge, they will also lose social skills as a result of sitting alone at home instead of interacting in classrooms, during break times and in lecture halls. It is particularly alarming that the impacts on young people from poorer families are greater than those for the wealthier members of society – who have the means to finance alternatives such as a private tutor.


What were the key education developments?


Definitely the nationwide digitalisation of the education system, which has now been rolled out very quickly and very successfully out of necessity. On the downside, the crisis has revealed what the education system was previously lacking, and how far away it was from what was actually possible. We change that as soon as possible. I’m not just talking about switching the hardware and software over to remote learning and online lessons. I also mean we have to change the organisational structures. For example, universities could introduce a modular, nationwide system of standard introductory lectures that are centrally produced and distributed online. Then the universities can add more depth to them, supplement them and adapt them to their specific needs. This would put an end to mass events and result in changes to the universities’ building layouts. There would be more smaller classrooms and fewer enormous lecture halls, and the lectures would include more mentoring, training and coaching elements, rather than simple serving as vehicles for content communication.


What things do we need most to achieve the goal of ‘best education by 2030’?


Digitalisation is more than just a technical challenge. Both the students and their teachers have consider what the essence of school and education is. Edu- cation serves to shape us as individuals and prepare young people for an uncertain future. That includes teaching them how to deal with crises and disrup- tions, but also, and more importantly, personal development and character building. These soft skills, which have less to do with educational qualifications, cannot simply be added on to the mandatory curriculum as a post script. They are general skills rather than specific ones. We have to change our priorities and factor the time constraints into the equation so that we can continue providing cultural, sports and social activities, or simply free time, for the children in the education system. Sometimes less is more!


What are you looking forward to next year? What needs to happen next year?


At the Foundation, especially in the Liberal Institute, we have done a great deal of preparatory work and now we are ready to share it with the public. Our brochure, ‘30 propositions for best education by 2030’ was the beginning. Now we have developed some ambitious plans on how to implement the propositions, such as master classes, workshops and seminars, lectures and other elements. Campaigning with all the other stakeholders for the best possible educa- tion system that gives our children’s children the same opportunities for a successful future in difficult times is both motivating and fun!