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Alliance for Education: a single country-wide IT infrastructure for all schools

Imagine a country where all educational IT can effectively communicate together. When a student moves school, all their information and electronic work will be immediately available at the new school. And if a teacher changes jobs, they would still be able to access their resources and work. This is what the Alliance for Education is trying to achieve in Germany – and possibly across Europe.

The Alliance for Education is a cross-industry group formed by some of the world’s leading IT companies – including Intel, Microsoft and itslearning – as well as a number of digital content providers and German states.

Since it was formed in January 2012, the Alliance has been working towards a simple but ambitious goal: to design a single IT architecture that will allow all educational institutions in Germany to share data and resources with each other – and so improve the educational experience for all 11 million students and 900,000 teachers in Germany.

Aligning IT for the good of education

“Like most countries, educational IT in Germany is a bit hit-and-miss right now,” explains Christian Grune of itslearning Germany, one of the founding members of the Alliance for Education. “Each institution or state has created its own infrastructure. While many of these are good, they aren’t integrated. As a result, when a student moves schools their data can’t usually be transferred and a lot of valuable information is lost. It also makes it very difficult to share resources across schools or colleges.”

Open standards are the key

The Alliance is now working to change this. The idea is to create a blueprint for all educational IT in Germany that would mean that any institution, regardless of which systems or providers they used, could always share information – and this means using open standards.

“Open standards is a key mantra,” explains Christian. “The goal is to ensure that every system can share data. This way, it won’t matter what Management Information System or learning platform an institution uses, they will always be able to share data with each other.”

Entering the cloud

To achieve this, the Alliance is going to use a cloud-based architecture. In essence, cloud systems are hosted on the internet, so IT managers they don’t have to install or update software on local machines. The system provider ensures the system runs smoothly, securely hosts the data and can easily roll out any upgrades to match changes in architecture.

“Cloud systems vastly reduce set-up and running costs for institutions,” says Christian. “But they also make it much easier to create a unified architecture. Because pretty much anyone can integrate their system into a cloud structure, it will enable us to create a completely open architecture that any company or publisher can work with.”

Easing the decision-making process for ICT managers

This will also make it simpler for IT managers to select systems and design IT infrastructure for their institution – which can be a daunting and time-consuming task.

Christian explains: “We want to put a framework in place that any institution can follow. The framework will include all the systems an institution needs – from management information systems to handle student data to pedagogical learning platforms and content distribution systems from publishers – and will make it much easier for an IT manager to choose their IT systems.”

Building for the future in Germany and Europe

The Alliance for Education hopes to create its first designs after the summer which they can pilot in the autumn. And, if the project proves successful in Germany, the Alliance is hoping to spread the project further afield, possibly to create a single IT infrastructure for all education in Europe.

For Christian, it’s an exciting and challenging time. “This is a huge project and there are a lot of companies and institutions with different focuses and needs,” he explains. “But we’re committed to working together for a common goal: to improve education in Germany – and possibly Europe – through IT.”

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