About education and Big Data

Interview with Gesche Joost, Digital Champion of Germany. Questions by Claudia Nemat, Board Member Europe & Technik Deutsche Telekom.


Claudia Nemat: Ms. Joost, let's start with the topic of education. Where do we stand here in Germany in terms of preparing the younger generation for the digital future?

Gesche Joost: Unfortunately, we are very poorly prepared for this. In relation to the rest of Europe we are among the lowest third.

Current studies that have just been published on this topic show that in terms of school education in this field, we are lagging way behind.

As a comparison, last year a major initiative was launched in the UK aimed at incorporating digital knowledge into every aspect of the curriculum. That means not just saying we're going to teach the kids a bit of programming, but instead looking at how digital education can be incorporated into teaching and learning across the board. What new teaching formats are available for this? How can we use interactive graphics? How can we carry out online research? How can we integrate connected learning? Not only that: every seven-year-old in England is given a programmable device of their own. It's great! These are mini computers, along the lines of a Raspberry Pi. They cost about ten euros, which is very reasonable, and they can be used very creatively to teach coding, so that kids learn to have fun with programming even at an early age. I see that as a real role model scheme.

Unfortunately this is something that we see very little of in Germany – there are a few flagship projects, but nothing across the board. This isn't simply a bit of a pity; it's also dangerous, given that we're always saying we need great new talents to provide creative input and help shape the digitization process. We certainly aren't teaching these skills in our schools.

Claudia Nemat: As the mother of two small children, I have to say that you are right there, unfortunately. But tell me, what do we need to do in Germany to get into the top third?

Gesche Joost: I think we need to start with a really comprehensive campaign aimed at refocusing our teacher training programs. We need to provide our schools with infrastructure. We have to develop an overall digitization strategy for teaching and learning. These are huge changes that really need to take place from the top down, and we need political commitment to the topic. But even if we start straight away, it might be ten years before the changes actually come into force, which is far too late.

So we have to take a bottom-up approach at the same time. In Europe we have set up the "Code Week" event, which is a week-long programming event for children and young people throughout Europe - with more than 5,000 children taking part in Germany alone. It was a huge success all over Europe, which showed that the best initiatives that we could put in place straight away are the bottom-up projects, for example, code schools and the CoderDojo, the OpenTechSchool and parents'. All of the information is available online to replicate the schemes, which means we can start from the bottom right away, not in ten years' time.

Claudia Nemat: I like that! "Do it now," with concrete results! But to change the subject slightly: We Germans are also particularly dogmatic when it comes to data protection matters. Do you also see the whole topic as a big headache, or do you think we should be a bit more relaxed about the whole thing?

Gesche Joost: A bit of both! I find it very interesting when I am traveling around Europe with my colleagues, the other Digital Champions: they see data protection as much less of a headache. When I mentioned the NSA scandal and asked just what we are doing with our privacy, they just looked at me, wide-eyed, and asked what exactly the problem is. It was interesting to see that this concern is quite German in nature. I'm very German about it. I think that is a good thing that we try to uphold data protection.

On the other hand, I think it is essential that we achieve a balance if we are not to stifle innovation in the field of big data. We need to be strict in regard to our personal, individual data. I need to know what my data is worth and be able to decide for myself whether I want to trade it, and whether I want to have it networked or not. At the same time, we really should unleash the kind of Big Data that is available with both manifold and anonymized data and finally start to capitalize on it. Up to now we have only been using a tiny proportion of all big data, but so many different, fantastic business models are possible if we use it properly. We really need to be quicker, and offer more freedom; this is an area that we shouldn't regulate.

What I'm saying is that we need to really differentiate on a small scale when we are talking about privacy and data protection: information, protection and also "privacy by default" need to be in place in certain situations, but the aim is not the general channeling and limiting of data exploitation. If we did that we would choke off everything that is beginning to grow and thrive.

Claudia Nemat: It's better for us to shape the future than for us to be shaped. – You communicate a lot with the Digital Champions from other countries. In your role as Digital Champion, where do you see the most pressing need for action?

Gesche Joost: One element would be copying the model of digital education from other countries such as Denmark or England and applying it to Germany.

The second would be the question of whether we are really putting on-the-job training into practice successfully. There are already some great initiatives in this regard, including in Germany, with the aim of developing talent with a European focus. I think opening up this ecosystem so that we are not just tackling the topic in a bubble within each company is a good idea. I think it is helpful to make better use of open platforms and to use e-learning methods more for acquiring the basic knowledge and skills that are needed. That is another European concept, which I find very exciting.

The third is to make sure that we implement industrial policy with an eye on 5G, that we improve broadband build-out and that we make sure that we really get the Internet of Things up and running. These are areas where it is important to make sure that the idea of the digital single market really takes flight, where we will be quicker if we work together, and where we can't be the typical naysayers who have to argue every single point over and over while the Chinese, maybe, and the Americans are just getting on and doing it.

Absolutely! So let's work together to counter the naysayers. Ms. Joost, thank you very much for talking to me.

Gesche Joost:Thank you.

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