Abitur examination in NRW postponed due to technical problems
In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, the Abitur exams were supposed to start on Wednesday. However, this did not materialize due to technical problems: A large number of schools were unable to download the assignments. The Ministry of Education in Düsseldorf is now facing criticism – also because of the chosen alternative date.
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Server problems prevent download
The exams scheduled for Wednesday in the subjects of biology, chemistry, nutrition, computer science, physics and technology could not take place due to a server glitch. Since 2018, the company Gonicus from Arnsberg, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Education, has been responsible for distributing the Abitur exams to schools. The company operates two servers through which the tasks are distributed. One of the servers serves as a backup to cushion any failures. However, on Tuesday, when the assignments for the exams scheduled for Wednesday were to be distributed to the schools, both servers were affected by technical problems. As a result, only about 300 of the total of about 900 schools were able to download the assignments.
Ministry of Education does not communicate openly
However, the extent of the problem was not clear to the affected schools for a long time, primarily due to the lack of communication from the Ministry of Education. This received according to the statement of the Minister of Education Dorothee Feller (CDU) at 14:10 information about download problems. However, the schools were initially left alone with these – as school administrators reported to SPIEGEL, for example – and not informed that it was a server problem. It was not until after 8:30 p.m. that the schools were informed that a solution was no longer possible and that the exams would have to be postponed. For the teachers in charge, this meant hours of uncertainty without sufficient clarification.
Feller claims to have been in close contact with the schools, but they described the situation differently on Tuesday. Rolf Faymonville, principal of the Albertus Magnus High School in Bensberg, for example, told SPIEGEL that the information from the ministry had remained vague: “We were put off for hours until the cancellation finally came at half past eight.”
Alternative transmission failed
CDU Education Minister Feller also told media that she had tried to make the Abitur papers available via a server run by the ministry. However, she said, this attempt failed because the upload of the files stopped at 96 percent. Why no new attempt was started remained open. Demands to transmit the tasks by courier service to the schools, gave the Minister afterwards a clear refusal. She referred to a requirement of the Berlin Institute for Quality Development in Education (IQB), which is responsible for the administration of the central Abitur tasks. According to Feller, the IQB requires that schools receive the assignments digitally. This can be seen as a fundamental problem of the digitization discourse, which often revolves around digitization as a necessary goal or even an obligation to develop, without providing justifications for the pressure to digitize or reflecting on opportunities and risks in a differentiated way. After all, a non-digital delivery by courier service could have prevented the postponement of the Abitur exams in NRW and, as Feller’s reference to the IQB can be interpreted, failed solely due to the digitization compulsion.
New date faces criticism
The problems don’t end there, however. So Feller is also because of the new date for the exams in biology, chemistry, nutrition, computer science, physics and technology in the criticism. They are to take place now on Friday, 21.04. This date is however for equal two reasons badly suitable. Thus on it a course strike takes place, which should make it for the participants in all probability clearly more difficult to arrive in time to their examinations. In addition, the three-day Eid begins on Friday, so that no consideration is given to the concerns of Muslim participants – unlike those of Christians, for example, whose holidays are, as a matter of course, free of school and thus necessarily free of exams.
Feller does not have any solutions for these problems. With regard to the rail strike, she merely referred to the nine o’clock start of the exam, which in her opinion would allow all participants to be at school on time. Feller left open the reason for the nine o’clock start to cushion the effects of the rail strike. With regard to the Eid festival, she merely pointed out that examinees who wanted to stay away from the exams for this reason would be given the opportunity to take a make-up appointment, as would examinees who had fallen ill. Feller did not mention that this would mean a significant additional burden for those affected.
Feller received criticism for the reasons mentioned not only from the rows of the school lines, but also from the national pupil agency as well as from the oppositional SPD. Their school policy spokeswoman, Dilek Engin, criticized a “disastrous communication behavior” that was ultimately detrimental to teachers and high school graduates.
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