Homeschooling exposes digitalization gaps everywhere

Mixed results one year following the first lockdown

In March 2020, something that was previously considered unimaginable in Europe became reality in many European countries: lockdowns, curfews, and contact restrictions. As a result, work and education had to adapt – wherever possible. Home office and distance learning, previously considered the exceptions rather than the rule, became the new normal. A survey* in Germany and the UK, conducted in March by YouGov on behalf of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics, has shown how people – especially those with school-aged children – have adapted to the situation one year after the first lockdown. The home office survey results will be published shortly. **

Quality homeschooling often fails because of a lack of funding

Three quarters (74%) of parents of school-aged children in Germany say that they have the basic requirements for home education – internet access and computers – but seven per cent don’t. The remainder aren’t sure how to answer this question. Under half, 41 per cent, have invested in technical equipment at home to facilitate distance learning, but almost a third of the parents surveyed (32%) still need to invest more to ensure a smooth learning experience; money that they don’t have at the moment.

Parents in Great Britain have responded similarly: 79 per cent have the basic technical requirements at home, while six per cent don’t. Of the respondents, 43 per cent have invested in equipment to support distance learning, and a full third (33%) still need to invest more, which they don’t have right now, to ensure a decent standard of home-schooling.

“Even though it sounds good when you first hear it, that 74 per cent of parents in Germany and 79 per cent in the UK are equipped with the basic technical requirements to support home-schooling, there are still too many children in both countries who don’t have access, and cannot be educated, or at least not to the same extent as other students, due to the lack of technical infrastructure at home, and where the family doesn’t have enough money,” says Dr. Sara Warneke, Managing Director of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics. She continues, “Education is a fundamental requirement to be able to participate in work and social life, and we need to make sure we don’t lose anyone, for the sake of society and the economy. Of course, this holds true on both sides of the Channel.”

Not only does the technical infrastructure at home need to support quality home-schooling, but schools must also be appropriately equipped. Less than half of German parents (48%) believe that their child’s school has the technical facilities to provide distance learning. It’s higher in Britain, where 58 per cent of parents believe their schools are adequately equipped.

Satisfactory grades for teachers – not good enough for policy makers

Parents in both Germany and Great Britain generally agree about the different levels in the quality of online teaching: 70 per cent in Germany say that the quality of teaching depends heavily on the individual teacher, while 68 per cent of British parents agree with this statement.

However, there is a significant difference of opinions when asked about the level of commitment shown by the teachers: While just under half of German parents (49%) agree with the statement that teachers have made great efforts to ensure that distance learning works well for the students, 72 per cent of British parents strongly agree with this statement. Almost exactly the same numbers were found when parents were asked about the general level of commitment to distance learning at the schools. Again, 49 per cent of German parents and 71 per cent of British parents report that a lot of effort has been made. The satisfaction with the commitment of schools and teachers is much higher among British parents than parents in Germany.

Respondents on both sides, however, graded policy makers poorly on their commitment to distance learning. Only 25 per cent of German parents and 30 per cent of parents in the United Kingdom believe that the related policies are effective.

It’s not just the students who suffer under bad policies, but also the parents: Around a third of parents in Germany (34%) and just under half of British parents (47%) report that they often feel overwhelmed while supporting their children with their schoolwork.

“No one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it would have on education. But a year has now passed since the first lockdowns – this surely must be enough time to have set online education on the right track. In fact, the digitalisation train at schools should have been running at top speed long ago,” says Dr. Sara Warneke, commenting on the survey results. She adds, “Investments must be made in the technical infrastructure at schools, particularly where students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds need material support. But the survey also shows that additional training for teachers is necessary so they can provide the same good standard of education online.”

Progress has been made, but it’s not fast enough

Even though the digitalisation of schooling is not yet sufficient, respondents in both countries agree there has been progress made, albeit to different degrees: In Germany, 25 per cent of respondents believe the country is now better positioned than it was a year ago, but 40 per cent say there has been a noticeable improvement. More has happened in the UK, where 57 per cent of parents report noticeable progress, and only 11 per cent believe they are in the same situation as a year ago. This discrepancy clearly shows that the pace of digitalisation is not fast enough, particularly in Germany.

* The data used are based on an online survey by YouGov Deutschland GmbH at the beginning of March in which participated parents with children in home schooling (Germany: 321, Great Britain: 373).

** The results are from a two-part survey covering home-schooling and home office. The second part of the results will be published by gfu in the second half of March. If you would like the results of this survey and other news from gfu, please join our news distribution list: Media contact – GFU