Towards Individual Mobile Equipment?

If it were enough to equip with hardware and software for digital technology to have a place in the school system, that would be known. For fifty years, equipment has been at the forefront of decision makers’ concerns. However, the place of digital technology in education is still too unequal, imprecise and hesitant and above all lacks a more global vision of the place to be given to digital technology in teaching. Because in the organizational and administrative fields, the school system does not lack means or daily practices, even imposing them more and more on families and students. From registration to scholarships, from orientation to school life, educational establishments do not lack “online services” which, for many years, have computerized the management of establishments. On the other hand, on the teaching side, the equipment is very unequal 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 presented for digital technology in the documents of the “school building” unit of the DGESCO, we are still very far from the trivialization of IT and digital technology in everyday teaching.

What place for smartphones?

2005224Let us explain ourselves clearly: it is not a question of advocating the use of digital means during all class time and for all activities. No, that is absurd and would in fact be counterproductive, as the educational mission is much broader. It concerns the human in its totality, its complexity, and not only the techniques which, if they are more and more present in daily life, are only an auxiliary of “real life”. But it is clear that the problem posed to the school system by the acquisition of skills in the use of digital technology in everyday life.

What has changed over the past twenty years is the proliferation of personal devices and more particularly smartphones and other mobile devices. By investing in these materials, it is also a question of expenses to connect (telephone and Internet), to see for certain uses software (often free, with publicity, and sometimes paying). Between video games and digital social networks (RSN), the youngest have massively adopted these means and have therefore developed certain skills. But is this enough to “live in society” and participate “actively” in a responsible way? Many people observe the limits of these informal acquisitions when it comes to accessing services offered or imposed in social life, such as enrollment in various resources (school, employment centre, etc.) or important services ( ameli/health or taxes and banks). Young people acquire the skills they need (need???) but they are helpless in the face of these other resources and services imposed in social life.

At school

If pupils at school have access to screens as easily as they do in their daily lives, then the educational teams will be able to strengthen their ability to make them adopt responsible attitudes: learn not to use them if it does not make sense, set priorities, make choices. Thus, the school can better fulfill its educational mission, which it cannot do if the computer, the screens remain aside (computer room, suitcase of shared laptops that must be reserved) and are often understood by the students. as rewards, relaxations, compared to usual classroom practices. The report of the Court of Auditors of 2019 whose title and subtitle are eloquent: “The digital public service for education, A concept without strategy, an unfinished deployment”. The latter, established before confinement, would surely be enriched by the achievements 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 highlights: (p.16): “At the start of the third decade of the 21st century, the middle school classes are almost all equipped with a video projector: 79% of the classes visited have a video projector fixed to the wall or ceiling, 9% have a non-fixed video projector and only 12% do not have one”. We can add to this this other observation on the arrangement in the rooms which confirms the mainly “expository” model of teaching: “The arrangement most often adopted, in a little more than half of the classes observed, is an arrangement in columns and rows, where all the students face the board. This classic arrangement allows all the students to be well positioned to observe the board.”.

Concerning more specifically the use of digital technology, the inspectors write: “The classes are generally equipped with a computer connected to a video projector, but the projection is not always done on a board where it is possible to write and the viewers remain excessively rare”. We also read: “Computers and tablets available to students remain rare in middle school classes”. Observing in this way that the pupils can only very rarely have access to “functional” materials in class, they continue their analysis in the direction of the teachers concerning the implementation of the material means by the pupils in class: “The few sessions where their use was observed had required a very significant 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 to say directly accessible by the teacher and the students in the classroom. Computers at the back of the classroom have been present since the first years of educational computing. We have been able to observe this from the start of “personal computers” in the mid-1990s. As for individual student equipment, we have mainly observed it 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 increasingly strong, confirmed by the frequent use of students’ personal equipment (most often smartphone, BYOD) during lessons.

And now ?

The rate of equipment among young people is impressive and this from an early age (10 years most often for a first personal equipment, well before for equipment in the home). The most recent changes in the practices of young users go in two directions: digital social networks on the one hand, “spontaneous” uses, i.e. uses that combine the facilitation of activities and instantaneous access to these functions (videos, games, simple services, practical applications). The concerns and recommendations made by Dominique Boullier in his book on social networks should irrigate the teaching and educational world (“How to get out of the grip of social networks”, ed le Passeur, 2020). Even if this document does not directly address the issue of education, it highlights the place taken by Digital Social Networks (RSN) in society and gives ways to “take back control”. If of course it is first of all in the direction of decision-makers that this remark is addressed, it concerns each of us, as we let our daily lives be irrigated by these digital means without trying to understand them, trying to control them, at least for himself.

Will the change of Minister of Education bring about another vision of things? Nothing is less certain for the moment. The generation of the return to the previous had been 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, quite the contrary, because the crisis situations experienced and probably to be experienced will lead to significant changes which will be accompanied in society by digital technology. Let’s hope that a political vision really brings the school system to act (and not “react”).

Bruno Devauchelle

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Towards Individual Mobile Equipment?


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