Verena Pausder is a successful tech entrepreneur, author and expert for digital education. The World Economic Forum named her “Young Global Leader” in 2016. KfW Stories spoke with her about TUMO in Berlin, where KfW financed the start-up phase of the new “Center for Creative Technologies” for young people.
About Ms Pausder
Born in Hamburg in 1979, Verena Pausder is the founder of Fox & Sheep and of HABA Digitalwerkstätten. The World Economic Forum named her “Young Global Leader” in 2016. In her eyes, giving children equal access to digital education is one of the core requisites for ensuring Germany's future viability. Her book "Das Neue Land" ("The New Country") entered the best-seller list of renowned German weekly "Spiegel" and was awarded the "Entrepreneur's Book of the Year" special prize by Frankfurter Buchmesse, Handelsblatt and Goldman Sachs. In addition, she is committed to the topic of education as a member of the Innovation Council and of the university council of CODE University Berlin. Verena Pausder lives in Berlin with her husband and their three children.
Ms Pausder, you are among the few people who were able to visit the TUMO centre, even before the actual target group. Young people will initially only have access to digital lessons due to coronavirus. What were your impressions there?
Verena Pausder: I’m delighted. It’s open, inclusive, bright – in short, it’s the complete opposite of “children sitting alone in a room and playing on a device.” It looks nothing like school or a traditional classroom. TUMO is a learning facility of the future, that’s for sure.
And yet the idea and the pilot project started in a developing country.
Armenia is far ahead of us when it comes to software programming. There, they quickly understood that education is their sole resource and their only chance to be an active player in future. Armenian software developers have a good reputation far beyond their country’s borders. That’s how I found out about TUMO three or four years ago and followed it on the Internet with great interest and fascination. And when I heard that KfW had imported the concept to Germany, I immediately said “I want to support that!”
What inspired you to become involved with digital education?
The first business I founded was a digital games company. However afterwards, I began thinking that we need to train children to become creators in the digital world. We need to teach them programming, robotics, data science, artificial intelligence and graphic design. To get that ball rolling, I founded my second company, HABA Digitalwerkstätten, a kind of TUMO for six to twelve-year-olds. The experience showed me that we cannot stop there. We need offerings that take people right through to university, and then a corresponding course of study to maintain the education chain. That is what our country needs to ensure that things get done. We still haven’t placed enough of a priority on the subject of digital education. So TUMO does a wonderful job filling that gap.
What do you like about TUMO, in particular?
I like that TUMO is just as appealing to girls as it is to boys, and that it’s called the “Centre for Creative Technologies” and not something like the “Technical Centre for Applied Sciences”. This helps girls find something appealing from the start, like music, photography, film or graphic design. And that could lead to a passion for coding or robotics because they also catch glimpses of those areas there.
Coronavirus taught Germany a lesson when it comes to digitalisation, especially in schools. What should the takeaway be after the coronavirus crisis is over?
Coronavirus really did trigger massive nationwide training measures; ten million pupils, their parents and teachers were forced to deal with digitalisation. Now we have to accept that challenge. We need to understand that digital education is a resource and promote it the way we promote music schools or sports associations because we believe that school athletics alone are insufficient. If the state wants digital extracurricular learning facilities, an essential step has already been taken. TUMO sends a strong message to that effect. We have a lot of private capital in Germany in charitable trusts, family-owned companies, et cetera. I am confident that TUMO will prevail thanks to their involvement.
How can we take TUMO to the next level?
The Digitalpakt Schule programme, which the government launched a year ago to better equip schools with digital technology, has stagnated. No one is applying for the funds because schools don’t have experts looking into the issue and developing concepts together with teachers. That’s why I am delighted by the idea that TUMO could be a kind of digital adult education centre. And that could be the innovation that happens in Germany. We don’t need to import an Armenian concept to do that.
One question all parents ask themselves nowadays is how much time should children be allowed to spend with digital devices?
If anyone has boys, like I do, then you have gaming in your house. Girls tend to be more absorbed in social networks. I differentiate between digital consumption, for which I have clear-cut rules and time limits, and digital creative time. If the kids are learning how to play piano using an app, making a stop motion video, or want to build something in Minecraft’s creative mode, then they are allowed to have extra time for those things. In those cases, the result is what matters, not how much time the child needs to do it. I was in this mindset when I brought my 13-year-old to TUMO, too.
Did you have to convince him?
His initial reaction was “I already have sports and school, that’s enough”. But since he registered and decided to learn graphic design, filmmaking and music, he has been very motivated. And that says a lot in times when classes are taking place online and he hasn’t even been able to see how great the centre is in person yet. I saw that as confirmation that we need to give new things a chance. That also applies to Germany’s schools. Once we become familiar with these new things, we can kill two birds with one stone. We do something fun while learning things that will be relevant for the future.
Published on KfW Stories: 14 December 2020.