(France) Teaching with and digital training: two fundamental challenges for the coming decade

While the crisis has had the merit of putting schools back in the spotlight and demonstrating the potential of technological tools, much remains to be done to fully exploit their strengths. It is no longer just a question of allowing distance learning, but above all of promoting more effective learning.

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By Nicolas Bertrand, project manager at mc2i, digital transformation consulting firm and Isabelle Dubacq, operational unit director, public service expert at mc2i

A new world is emerging. The COVID-19 pandemic was not a revolution, but acted as a powerful catalyst for the upheavals generated by digital transformation. Already underway for several decades, the digital transformation of the education sector has been particularly accelerated. While the crisis has had the merit of putting schools back in the spotlight and demonstrating the potential of technological tools, much remains to be done to fully exploit their strengths.

The big digital shock of the education sector

In France, with the closure of schools and the generalization of distance education, the use of digital technology, put forward for several years by the Ministry of National Education and the creation in 2013 of a “digital public service”. educational ”, suddenly and massively imposed itself. 

In one 2019 report, the Court of Auditors pointed out the obstacles to the deployment of this service, despite strong public investments: insufficient connection of schools and establishments; inequalities in access to equipment; an abundant, but insufficiently organized supply of digital resources; teachers not always comfortable with pedagogy based on digital tools, for lack of sufficient training.

The pandemic has cruelly confirmed this diagnosis and highlighted the school divides that can be accentuated by the uncontrolled generalization of new technologies. Educational continuity has been ensured for students with personal computers, quiet workspaces and available parents; other students, already impacted by academic or social difficulties, have completely dropped out. The crisis has revealed and accelerated educational inequalities. The use of digital technology has benefited the most motivated students and the best supported, and dumped students in difficulty. Digital technology can, however, be a powerful tool in the fight against dropping out of school.

Support the development of the EdTech sector through massive investments

The crisis quickly gave rise to numerous initiatives in France, both in the public and private sectors. The market for technologies serving education and training, EdTech, has exploded with the suspension of face-to-face classes, and should maintain this dynamic over the long term, despite the return of students to classes. 

It is not only a matter of allowing distance learning, but above all of promoting more effective learning. Most of these new technologies have in common that they allow the personalization of learning, made possible by artificial intelligence techniques, as well as granting more autonomy to the learner, whose commitment is essential.

The United States and China have understood the considerable potential of these new technologies, in which they have invested heavily for several years, whether they concern schools, high schools, universities, or continuing education. 

In France, the crisis made it possible to overcome certain cultural or psychological reluctance, but start-ups sector are struggling to find a sustainable model. The recent awareness must translate into massive investments, the risk being that after this period of strong growth and the boost given by the crisis, these companies go under foreign flags, or find it difficult to resist against GAFAM and American and Chinese tools, in an increasingly globalized market.

The stake is not only economic. It is also a problem of digital sovereignty; learner data must be protected. They are valuable in more than one way: they make it possible to build models, to follow a progression, to analyze and understand errors, successes, to adapt a training course; they also nourish research and development work in education, facilitate the evaluation and development of teaching methods.

Train more in digital

If learning and teaching with digital technology, as a tool, is an essential issue for the coming decade, training at digital is in itself an emergency. All business sectors are becoming more and more dependent on digital technologies. Being trained in digital technology will be an essential asset in the future for practicing most professions, and even integrating socially:illectronism (digital illiteracy) today constitutes a real handicap in accessing certain services, and a new cause of social, cultural and economic inequality.

Real progress has already been made to introduce digital technology and computer sciences into initial training - high school teaching, creation of the CAPES and the computer science aggregation, etc. These efforts must be continued by generalizing the teaching of informatics at all levels of initial training and by forming a built whole. 

Useful clarification: this does not necessarily mean exposing children more to screens. It is possible to train the youngest without a screen in the logic and mechanisms of computer language with relatively little material (stickers, drawings, construction games, robots).

While the digital revolution is accelerating and successively transforming all sectors of activity (banking, distribution, media, health, etc.), the shortage of experts is worsening, as is the lack of diversity of profiles. Digital technology could however constitute a gigantic relay of growth and competitiveness for France.

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