“As a teacher, I stress the point that the computer is just a tool,” Silane Mwenechanya, an information and communications technology (ICT) teacher with Phorms Education in Frankfurt, tells The Local.
“I try to give the students the skills to view this tool in an advanced way, not just for entertainment.”
Phorms Education, which introduced a new model of education in Germany nearly ten years ago, now has seven schools in the country: in Hamburg, Berlin Mitte and Berlin Süd, Frankfurt City and Frankfurt Taunus, Munich, and the Josef-Schwarz-Schule in Baden-Württemberg.
The Phorms Education model incorporates the required curriculum of Germany, but also goes above and beyond. Instruction is in both English and German from day one, encouraging students from kindergarten to 12th grade to gain native fluency in both languages.
It's a method that apparently works, as enrolment has skyrocketed in recent years. Phorms Education now has more than 500 teachers and nearly 3,000 students of nationalities from around the world.
Never satisfied with the status quo, however, the schools have now taken the next step by integrating new technology in the classroom from an early age in an effort to increase pupils' awareness of the possibilities of technology.
“We have Smartboards in every classroom, and we also do a lot of work with Macbooks,” Mwenechanya, explains. “Many students have been using technology for years when they come to the school, but primarily for entertainment.”
Students at the Phorms schools in Frankfurt start taking ICT courses in first grade – as opposed to sixth or seventh grade in most German schools - and have 45 minutes of computer instruction per week. According to Mwenechanya, that's enough for students to develop an understanding and interest in using the tool for other courses as well.
“Our students really learn about the technology, theory, and programs, and then they can use that information in other subjects, presentations, and research in other subjects.”
So far, the results are convincing.
“We are a young school, and compared to state schools we have a huge advantage in this regard,” Mwenechanya says. “By the time the kids enter high school, they have a very good understanding of what the internet is, and can operate a computer independently.”
Such skills may seem basic, but are critical at a time when many German students struggle with computer literacy. According to the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS), up to a third of German eighth graders have significant weaknesses when it comes to operating computers. Only 1.6 percent of German students stated that they use a computer every day in school.
“I cannot speak for the state schools in Germany,” Mwenechanya says, “as we really are quite a bit ahead. Our students are well-prepared and have good knowledge of computers.”
According to the head of the Frankfurt Phorms schools, Michael Gehrig, there is a fine balance when it comes to incorporating technology into the classroom – but so far it's only been a blessing rather than a burden.
“There is too much screen time on a daily basis in general,” Gehrig tells The Local. “So we do have to watch as a school that we use it wisely.”
Initially wary of such technology as Smartboards, Gehrig says he now appreciates the way they level the playing field for students of many different backgrounds and skill sets.
“They help address different learning styles, offering audio, visuals, and text,” Gehrig explains. “So they are definitely an aid in understanding various topics.”
The feedback from both parents and students has been positive. But Gehrig points out that Phorms's extra emphasis on technology does not make traditional methods any less important.
“Everyone agrees that this is a cool thing to have, but our parents also agree that reading books is very important for their children,” Gehrig says. “We have a nice balance, because most of our parents place high value not just on digital education, but also the traditional way.”
Indeed, students must first and foremost learn to read, write, and calculate according to traditional approaches. Gehrig says that these are the sound foundations on which students can go on to develop new tools of learning.
“We don't want to lose a whole generation to the blue flickering parent that is the screen,” Gehrig remarks. “This is a tool which we must accompany with instruction, teaching, guidance, and awareness of how to use it wisely.”
The new technology is just one of many ways in which Phorms is raising the bar, and while Gehrig suspects that the concept will gradually spread, he said it is just one part of a bigger picture at Phorms.
“We are also working on developing cooperation with the IT-department of Goethe University Frankfurt,” Gehrig explains, “and in January I am meeting with the CEO of a private graduate school to discuss how we can cooperate in the field of IT.”
You can learn more about the Phorms schools and their concept at one of their information events. Click here to find out more.
This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Phorms Education