Open letter to the Minister of National Education of France on the ban on telephones

On the issue of the ban on school telephones imposed by France, here are some suggestions and successful examples of their integration. 

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On the issue of the ban on school telephones imposed by France, here are some suggestions and successful examples of their integration. 

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by Marc-André Girard (@magirard)
High school principal at Beaubois College
PhD student in educational administration
Speaker and author of the book: "Change in the Quebec school environment"

Mr. Minister of National Education,

I am taking the trouble to write to you because, during a recent stay in France, I discovered your country and its education system. I learned of its strengths and challenges. At the same time, I also became aware of the strengths and challenges of our education system in Quebec. One of the conclusions I come to is that they are complementary in many ways. For example, in my humble opinion, we certainly have a lot to learn about teacher training and the career advancement opportunities offered by the French school system. At the same time, I modestly think that the Quebec system can help you in terms of integrating digital technology into teaching. In short, it is my opinion that we benefit from networking and sharing our reciprocal expertise as well as our successes to contribute to those of the other. The world Francophonie will only be better for it, right?

That being said, I am taking the time to challenge you on the issue of the ban on smart phones in French schools. I know that in the last election your government had promised to ban phones in schools French. And, in this regard, it is virtuous for a politician to implement his electoral promises. But I'm asking you a question before you put your plan into action from the start of the 2018 school year : if it is not the school which takes care of it, who will show the pupils to use their smart phones ethically and civilly?

Like you, I noticed during my stay that young (and not so young too!) French people are literally absorbed by their portable device. I have noticed it in my frequent trips by train, both in the Paris region and on the Côte d'Azur. I saw them talking aloud on the phone on crowded trains, much to the annoyance of those around them. And like you, I am worried about the effects that blue light could have on the sleep cycles of our youngest children, or even Internet addiction. Even the posture of their neck calls out to me!

However, we must not stop there. Precisely, I think it is our responsibility, as players in the school system, to educate young people in moderation in the use of their devices. You have to ask yourself some fundamental questions: who will educate them to develop a critical sense of the technological tools they are so fond of? Who will show them how these devices work and explain to them how the programs (and their algorithms) analyze their personal information and make often commercial decisions concerning them, especially in terms of targeted and geolocated advertising?

Plus, who will teach them the basics of digital citizenship? What about the ethics of use and their digital footprint? What behavior should they have with these devices, especially in connection with their life in society? What about cyberbullying? Plagiarism ? Image rights? Unlike you, I cannot find a satisfactory answer to these questions in a ban on digital devices at school.

On the contrary, I firmly believe that the school must be open to the realities of young people and thus be part of the social movement. Its actors, me first, must face their fears, their concerns and their prejudices in the face of the omnipresence of smart phones in the school landscape, on both sides of the Atlantic! Yes, there is a significant gap between "digital natives", in this case our young people born in 21e century, and their teachers, these “digital immigrants”, born in the 20e century. The former have never known the world without cell phones and the Internet, while the others have witnessed their birth. However, it is the “immigrants” who allow themselves to judge the “natives” on the link they have with their device! We force them to think and act like us. Why not take advantage of it and create a school that looks like them?

Mr. Minister, with all due respect, if you sincerely believe that the ban on smartphones in the school landscape is possible and even viable and that in addition, the potential problems related to their use in school context will disappear, you are on the wrong track. . Several Quebec schools ban (or banned) these devices. When they confiscate them, it is a fight which opens against the pupils and against their parents. Perhaps they will support you in your crusade, but I can assure you that when their child's device has been confiscated for a few days, you will suddenly no longer enjoy their support. Believe me, Sir, I speak to you knowingly! Yes, as pathetic as it sounds, we are taking away part of their existence and a (false) sense of security. Your teachers, heads of establishments and inspectors of National Education will have their hands full and you will have to set up a "cell phone police" in your schools.

My short experience and my meetings with a few hundred French teachers allow me to deduce that the latter would certainly be more willing to educate their students in the realities of digital technology rather than go “hunting for phones” in their classes and having to practice a constant constraint to apply your prohibition instruction. Coercion has never been the best tool to educate anyway, right? In one case, we instruct the pupil and educate him in the responsible use of a device in a social context, while in the other, we play the police and we punish him for having adopted a behavior that those who punish him adopt themselves!

Don't get me wrong: I am not condoning a thoughtless integration of technology and, certainly like you, I think that we have to be careful with our youngest people about the use of technology in school. I would rather offer you this: train education professionals and give them the tools so that they can judiciously integrate these devices into their students' learning process, at the right time. You have extraordinary educational advisers both in the CANOPÉ network and at DANE. They are there to make it easy to integrate virtually any technology into teaching and learning. This also applies to personal portable devices which, by the way, have the advantage of reducing the necessary investment by communities and regions. Yes, this integration is possible! This is the case in several American, Canadian and Quebec schools. Moreover, many are taking the example of this visionary school which established a charter for using the wireless network (wi-fi) of mobile devices about six or seven years ago! Yes, you read that right; for several schools, it is no longer a question of allowing the contextualized or educational use of smart phones at school, but of giving them full access to the wi-fi network!

I am convinced that you do not want to see France lagging behind not only in terms of technological and educational development, but also in terms of digital citizenship and the development of skills in the 21st century.e century among students. Do not forget that a student who will enter college next September will soon be a professional, a parent, a citizen and will retire in the '60s… the 2060s! Do you think this current measure will help prepare your students for the next four decades? I highly doubt it.

I remain entirely available to share with you successful examples of technology integration, both in our school and in other Quebec schools.

Please accept my sincere greetings,

by Marc-André Girard (@magirard)
High school principal at Beaubois College
PhD student in educational administration
Speaker and author of the book: "Change in the Quebec school environment"



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About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in humanities education (1999), a master's degree in history teaching (2003) and a master's degree in educational management (2013). He is currently a doctoral student in school administration. He specializes in change management in schools as well as in educational leadership. He is also interested in 21st century skills to be developed in education. He holds a managerial position in a public primary school and gives lectures on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in the school environment as well as on the professionalization of teaching. He took part in educational expeditions to France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book “Le change en milieu scolaire québécois” with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the school of the 21st century with the same publisher. He frequently collaborates with L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and school administrators as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement.

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