If it were enough to equip hardware and software to bring digital technology into the school system, it would be known. For fifty years, equipment has been at the heart of decision-makers’ concerns. However, the place of digital technology in education is still too unequal, imprecise and hesitant and, above all, there is a lack of a more global vision of the place digital technology should have in education. For organizationally and administratively, the school system does not lack resources or day-to-day practices, and even increasingly imposes them on families and students. From registration to scholarships, from orientation to school life, educational institutions have no shortage of “online services” that have automated the management of institutions for many years. On the other hand, on the education side, the equipment is very uneven from one place to another, from one school level to another. Despite the recurring speeches on the subject, despite the recent projects of Educational Digital Territories or the Digital Base of Educational Establishments (SNEE), or even the place given for digital technology in the documents of the “school building” unit of the DGESCO, we are still a long way from the trivialization of IT and digital technology in everyday education.
Which place for smartphones?
Let’s make it clear: this is not about advocating the use of digital resources during all class hours and in all activities. No, that is absurd and would be counterproductive, since the educational mission is much broader. It concerns the human being in its totality, its complexity, and not just the techniques which, as they become more and more present in everyday life, are only a tool of “real life”. But it is clear that the problem of the school system by acquiring skills in using digital technology in everyday life.
What has changed in the last twenty years is the proliferation of personal devices and more specifically smartphones and other mobile devices. By investing in these materials, it is also a question of costs to connect (telephone and internet), to see software for certain applications (often free, with advertising, and sometimes paying). Between video games and digital social networks (RSN), the youngest have massively adopted these resources and therefore developed certain skills. But is this enough to “live in society” and “actively” participate in a responsible way? Many people observe the limits of these informal acquisitions when it comes to access to services offered or imposed in social life, such as registration in various sources (school, job center, etc.) or important services (ameli/health or tax and banking ). Young people acquire the skills they need (need???), but they are powerless against these other resources and services imposed in social life.
If students have as easy access to screens in school as they do in their daily lives, teaching teams can strengthen their capacity to make them take a responsible attitude: learn not to use them when it doesn’t make sense, set priorities, make choices. In this way, the school can better fulfill its educational mission, which it cannot do if the computer, the screens remain aside (computer room, suitcase or shared laptops that have to be reserved) and are often understood by the students as rewards, relaxation, compared to the usual classroom practices. The Court of Auditors’ report of 2019 whose title and subtitle are eloquent: “The digital public service for education, a concept without strategy, an unfinished commitment”. The latter, established before the incarceration, would certainly be enriched by the results of the past two years and would demonstrate what the report of the General Inspectorate on average prices to understand the problem published in April: (p.16): “At the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century, almost all high school classes are equipped with a video projector: 79% of the visited classes have a video projector mounted on the wall or ceiling, 9% have a non-fixed video projector and only 12% have none”. We can add one more comment about the arrangement in the rooms, which confirms the mainly “illuminating” model of education: “The arrangement most often adopted, in slightly more than half of the observed classes, is an arrangement in columns and rows , where all students face the board. This classic arrangement allows all students to be well positioned to observe the board.”.
As regards more specifically the use of digital technology, the inspectors write: “The classrooms are generally equipped with a computer connected to a video projector, but the projection is not always done on a blackboard where it is possible to write and viewers remain extremely rare”. We also read: “Computers and tablets available to students remain rare in high school classrooms”. Noting in this way that the students only very rarely have access to “functional” material in the classroom, they continue their analysis towards the teachers regarding the implementation of the material resources by the students in the classroom: “The few sessions where their use was observed would have required a very large commitment from teachers to prepare them.” The recommendation of the inspectors, taken in a realistic and egalitarian analysis of the situation, is to promote the idea of computers nearby, that is, directly accessible to the teacher and the students in the classroom. Computers in the back of the classroom have been around since the early years of educational computers. We have been able to observe this from the beginning of “personal computers” in the mid 90s. As for individual student equipment, we have observed this mainly experimentally in the years 2014 – 2016, in primary school, while this project was already in place as early as 2002 in certain colleges and high schools. It is clear that the trend is getting stronger, which is confirmed by the extensive use of students’ personal devices (usually smartphone, BYOD) during lessons.
And now ?
The number of kits among young people is impressive and this already at a young age (10 years usually for first personal equipment, well before that for equipment at home). The most recent changes in the practices of young users go in two directions: digital social networks on the one hand, “spontaneous” use, i.e. uses that combine the facilitation of activities and immediate access to these functions (videos, games, simple services, practical applications). The concerns and recommendations of Dominique Boullier in his book on social networks should irrigate the educational and educational world (“How to get out of the grip of social networks”, ed le Passeur, 2020). While this paper does not directly address the issue of education, it highlights the place digital social networks (RSN) occupy in society and provides ways to “take back control”. Of course, if it is first of all in the direction of decision-makers that this comment is addressed, it concerns all of us, as we allow our daily lives to be irrigated by these digital means without trying to understand them, trying to master them, at least for themselves.
Will the change of Minister of Education change the way we look at things? Nothing is less certain at this point. The generation of the return to the previous was carried by the previous minister, thinking that it would be enough to control to protect and educate. The facts have shown that this was not the case, on the contrary, because the crisis situations experienced and likely to be experienced will lead to profound changes in society associated with digital technology. Let’s hope a political vision really moves the school system into action (and doesn’t “react”).