didacta 2016 Where Education is Bursting at the Seams

Student teacher Christine Otte (right) and social worker Miriam Falke are pleased about the informative materials from the Goethe-Institut’s stand.
Student teacher Christine Otte (right) and social worker Miriam Falke are pleased about the informative materials from the Goethe-Institut’s stand. | © Lea Albring

Digital learning and educational programmes for refugees – staff members at the Goethe-Institut’s stand were ceaselessly asked about these two topics. A tour of Europe’s largest education trade fair reveals quite clearly that between textbooks and school furniture, both topics also play a pivotal role.

By Lea Albring

The didacta is as bustling as a railway station, but here, the visitors are not heading for their trains, but for the next stand, the latest textbook, the upcoming lecture. Many of them come with empty suitcases so that they can take home plenty of goodies. “Almost makes me envious,” primary school teacher Annika Goertz says with a laugh, watching a wheeled suitcase roll past as she adjusts her heavy backpack.

Language connects us

Primary school teacher Annika Goertz (left) and colleague Melanie Greßer take a break from the trade fair hubbub. Primary school teacher Annika Goertz (left) and colleague Melanie Greßer take a break from the trade fair hubbub. | © Lea Albring In four exhibition halls, nearly 800 exhibitors are showcasing the latest trends and discussing future perspectives on education. For five days, approximately 90,000 visitors can exchange information at dialogue forums, attend discussions and participate in professional conferences.

At didacta you will find colouring books for toddlers next further training seminars for seniors; traditional educational institutions are represented here alongside facilities that only have something to do with education at second glance. “Cribbing Allowed for Climate Protection,” the Federal Office for Radiation Protection advertises at its booth. Education, we see all around us, does not stop when you close the book or switch off the tutorial. Both colourful containers for waste separation and the full counters of the textbook publishers assure us that education is a holistic concept.

Visitors to the trade fair stand of the Goethe-Institut are fortified by a cup of espresso. Visitors to the trade fair stand of the Goethe-Institut are fortified by a cup of espresso. | © Lea Albring Still busy with her backpack, teacher Annika Goertz explains that many children in her class are learning German as a second language. “They have so many different needs that teacher-centred teaching often doesn’t work anymore,” she adds. She is therefore primarily searching the stands today for independent work materials.

In the next building at the Goethe-Institut’s stand, espresso is being served to visitors with initial signs of fatigue. Two special education teachers from Düsseldorf gladly take advantage of the offer. A few steps further on, student teacher Christine Otte is asking about learning programmes for pupils from other cultures. Although she teaches English and maths, she can only convey the content if the pupils understand her. The brochure Sprache verbindet (Language connects us) is recommended to her. It contains detailed information about how and where she can find material for learning German on the Internet, for example a digital vocabulary trainer or app. They are only a few of the many autodidactic programmes that the Goethe-Institut provides for free.

Smartphone plus language classes

Über Sprachlern-Apps für Geflüchtete diskutierten (v.l.n.r.): Ernst Schatz, Stefanie Janke, Dr. Heike Uhlig, Ines Paland. Über Sprachlern-Apps für Geflüchtete diskutierten (v.l.n.r.): Ernst Schatz, Stefanie Janke, Dr. Heike Uhlig, Ines Paland. | © Lea Albring “But, let’s be clear: you need more than an app to learn a language,” says Dr Heike Uhlig, head of the language department at the Goethe-Institut. A few minutes ago, she was hosting a panel where she asked: “German for refugees with smartphones and apps: is it enough?”

The panel quickly agreed that although apps and self-teaching programmes can support the learning process, they cannot replace a teacher. Stefanie Janke, who teaches German at the Goethe-Institut Madrid, also concurred. “Teachers are still always the intermediary for the target culture; interaction between teachers and students is something very central to learning a language,” she said on the panel with about seventy audience members.

That same morning, Sascha Lobo, one of the best-known digital thinkers, spoke at one of the many didacta stages. He is convinced that there are two camps among educators: One thinks modern digital devices are witches’ brew, the other believes equipping a classroom with tablets is all that’s needed. “I’m for both sides putting down their weapons and meeting in the middle,” said Lobo.

Traditional language classes and supplemental use of digital vocabulary apps: not just at the didacta, the Goethe-Institut is making a major contribution to the success of the middle course.