These start-ups are shaping the school of tomorrow

No matter if craftsman or surgeon – digitization does not bypass any profession and should also have a firm place in schools. With the digital pact and other subsidies and reforms, the politicians want to give schools the opportunity to equip themselves properly and adapt the lessons to the demands of the digital workplace.

One thing is clear: Schools, which are often still very much arrested in the analogue age, need professional help from digital specialists – such as start-ups who have focused on education.

LEAD has talked to two start-ups who want to bring students and teachers to the digital future in different ways.

The SchulApp: “More freedom for teachers”

Schools have their own ecosystem, which is not so well known to parents and even to many students: every day, teachers, secretaries and school management are working on representation plans, class books and teaching units. The SchoolApp digitalises these administrative processes and thus aims to make everyday work easier for the teachers. A short interview with CEO Benno Rott.

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CEO Benno Rott and software developer Daniel Wassermann show DieSchulApp. (Photo: Lisa Mayerhofer)

LEAD: How did you get the idea?

Benno Rott: We are a spin-off of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and operate DieSchulApp under the umbrella of the Munich software developer Virality. As a computer science student at the LMU Munich I dealt with mobile systems and worked in a project for schools. It has been shown that parents are often inadequately informed about what happens at school. In a pilot project at the secondary school in Poing, Upper Bavaria, we asked parents and students what information was important to them and set up a smartphone channel with push messages. This was followed by DieSchulApp, which digitizes the administrative and communication processes at schools throughout Germany. The Bavarian Ministry of Education, in conjunction with a school, has subjected our app to a data protection review.

Our concept is more holistic – where can we develop what the school already has. The SchulApp supports the communication and organization within the entire school family and digitizes, for example, sick leave, parents letters, representations and class book entries. Teachers, parents and students can be informed via push messages. The program is available both on the web and as a smartphone app and can also be connected to existing software. Since 2018, we actually receive daily requests from schools.

LEAD: How does your app change the everyday school life?

Rott: The SchulApp reduces the administrative burden and thus gives more time for the teachers who can use it for the lesson, they are then no longer held every lesson with administrative tasks: Who is sick, who is missing and so on … All these processes simplified DieSchulApp.

For teachers, the most popular feature is probably the digital class book, because it makes their daily work easier. For parents, it is the parents’ letter and the function for homework: Parents can view their children’s homework via DieSchulApp and report their children ill. With our app, parents get much more intensive contact with the school.

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View of DieSchulApp (Image: DieSchulApp)

LEAD: Are schools or students adequately prepared for digital transformation?

Rott: The question is, what will the schools do with the money, how will it help them? It also depends a lot on the headmaster’s motivation – some are very dedicated and if they do not receive financial support, they organize the discarded PCs of a company in town. Of course, the increased support of the school authorities and the state is a great help here. But you also have to bring digitization into your head. It is not an end in itself and principals need to ask where digital innovations make sense and how teachers can apply them. In addition, the long-term operation must be secured.

LEAD: In your opinion, what else needs to be changed?

Rott: There is still a lot of work for the schools and communities, they have to provide the infrastructure for digitization, implement digital processes and pay attention to data protection and other regulations.

One challenge is federalism, there are no uniform guidelines for the schools and some of the statements are very different. However, as a provider of education, we need clear guidelines as to what is allowed for the schools. However, there is still great uncertainty within the schools about what is and is not allowed by the authorities.

LEAD: What does the school of the future look like?

Rott: In the future, administrative tasks will increasingly be automated and digitized, which will relieve the school staff. For example, teachers have the freedom to deal with other digital news such as VR glasses or e-books that will come in the future.

With digitization, schools are becoming more location-independent, especially through AR and VR techniques. For example, you can show physics experiments in the classroom and at home. Other facilities such as the computer room are dying out – every student now has his own smartphone.

Also interesting: training for a world that no longer exists

AppCamps: “We do not want to exclude schools that have no budget”

AppCamps, founded by Diana and Philipp Knodel, offers free teaching materials for teachers – especially computer science topics. The goal: to get more students excited about new technologies – especially socially disadvantaged children. Co-founder Philipp Knodel explains the concept in an interview with LEAD.

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Philipp Knodel founded AppCamps together with his wife Diana. (Photo: AppCamps)

LEAD: You provide free teaching materials. What’s behind AppCamps?

Philipp Knodel: On our online platform there are digital teaching materials for teachers in the form of videos, tools and worksheets. We offer them for a variety of topics – from programming and other computer science topics to app or website development.

Computer science plays an increasingly important role in the classroom – including softer topics such as data security. Recently, we have published educational materials on artificial intelligence. But it’s also about how to program an algorithm and what the new technologies mean to society. We see a great need there, the technologization is an important topic and also needs education at the schools.

LEAD: How did you come up with the idea and what is your goal?

Knodel: It all started in the summer of 2013, when my wife and co-founder Diana and I organized a summer camp for girls to teach them how to program. She is a computer scientist and I researched education policy. We then received many inquiries from teachers and continued along the way. What bothered us was that when we offer a workshop on app development, we mainly reach boys from high school. That’s why we developed the idea that we should go to the schools, because everyone should have access to the knowledge, even the socially disadvantaged.

We then won a Social Entrepreneurship Contest and founded AppCamps with the Vodafone Foundation’s prize money. Now we are working full-time for AppCamps, with funding from various foundations and corporate partners. For teachers, the digital teaching materials are free – we do not want to exclude schools that have no budget.

“I think you have to be more confident in the field of digital education, try new products quickly and adapt them as needed.”
Philipp Knodel, AppCamps

LEAD: Did you meet with great approval in the schools, or were there hurdles?

Knodel: In the beginning, the big question was how to reach the teachers. We have only tried top down and contacted the states, but that is tedious and takes a long time. So we noticed that we have to go directly through the teachers directly. If AppCamps gets around with the teachers then you do not have to do that much anymore.

Meanwhile, we are pretty well known – but unfortunately there are still many hurdles in the infrastructure. Although our tools are available on the net, there are problems with the Internet connection in many schools or technical integration is not possible – you can not install a program because you are not an administrator or there is a mini-line for 300 computers. Nevertheless, many teachers go to a lot of trouble and become creative in order to be able to cope with their resources.

We see that computer science subjects are taught across disciplines by the teachers: For example, a biology teacher has built an organic app with his students, art teachers draw on a tablet, German has storytelling and media skills, and the vocabulary trainer is used in English lessons.

LEAD: You’re dealing with digital education. Now comes the digital pact. How do you rate him?

Knodel: You have to see it in a positive way: every money that flows into education is well spent. But one must not forget that it is a huge task that can not be completed in two years. Otherwise there is a risk that although devices are purchased, but overlooked that the teachers need training to use the devices also. In addition, in many schools, a teacher who has not been trained takes care of the equipment, for which lessons are reduced. Such a thing is a task that can not be easily done by one person at a time.

I think you’d have to dare more about digital education, quickly try out novelties and adjust them as needed, make it even easier for teachers to implement digital lessons, and value what they’re doing – that would not be an incredibly expensive wish.

Also interesting: the digital classroom

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