Debate: Why digital must be learned at school

If the constraint of distance education of the last year had the merit of accelerating the appropriation of digital technology by teachers and students, it also highlighted issues that did not date from yesterday.

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Through Jean-Francois Cerisier, Professor of information and communication sciences, University of Poitiers

The health crisis was indicative of the state of the school. Digital technology, long on the fringes of the concerns of educational institutions, has shown its importance for maintaining an educational relationship when access to classrooms is no longer possible.

Some digital skills are easily built with use, others require the support of specific learning activities. Shutterstock

Previously very marginal within school education, mainly reserved for disabled children (in the event of illness, family expatriation), distance training has become the fifth major argument in favor of the digital transition of schools. . It is in addition to the following four issues:

  • the effectiveness of digital technology for certain learning activities;
  • the help that IT resources can provide in the management of learning paths;
  • learning digital sciences as academic knowledge;
  • finally, and certainly the most important issue, while social networks are part of the daily life of young people, citizen education in digital technology.

The experience of confinement had the merit of inducing a change of scale in the appropriation that teachers and their students have made of digital technology. However, this forced recourse to digital techniques has also revealed to everyone many deficiencies that Digital States General, organized in November 2020 by the Digital Directorate for Education (DNE), noted.

The 40 proposals from the Estates General of digital education (November 2020). Ministry of Education

In fact, most of the issues identified have been known for a long time but remain unresolved due to an educational policy that has never yet given digital the place it should.

The illusion of the concept of "digital natives"

Among these problems, however, there is one well documented by research for twenty years, but still counter-intuitive has many. These are the skills that children and adolescents have in the use of digital techniques. In the eyes of many adults, and in particular those of some of the school's stakeholders (teachers, parents of pupils, political decision-makers or institutional officials), young people are very competent.

It must be recognized that the intensive practices and the dexterity that most of them demonstrate in the use of their smartphones effectively nourish a illusion of expertise. For those who observe them, as for them besides. A more detailed analysis of their practices attests to the reality of this expertise but shows that it is limited to the technical necessities of their practices (use of social networks, games, among others…).

Numerous testimonies, collected within the framework of research carried out by the Techné laboratory of the University of Poitiers during the confinement, allow a first identification of skills for implementing digital techniques, apparently basic, which however lack the students and obstruct the school uses of digital.

By way of example, we can point out skills relating to the organization of file storage, those related to handling the main file formats or to basic mastery of the main functionalities of a text editing application. This is how we observed students reduced to photographing their computer screen with a smartphone to send their teacher the result of their work, failing to have been able to record it from the application used or to have been able to take a screenshot.

Thus, the digital skills of young people, mainly acquired through experience, do not always correspond to those required for school use. Two problems of training young people in digital technology are thus highlighted, both as important as the other. The first concerns digital citizen education and the second, more circumscribed, training in digital skills mobilized at the School.

The limits of experiential learning

This observation clearly militates for learning to use digital technology for educational purposes at school. This is all the more necessary when the use of digital equipment and services by students takes place outside the supervision and support of teachers. This is the case in a confinement situation.

Today, the evolution of the fourth pandemic wave unfortunately gives rise to fears that the measures to restrict access to school premises announced by the Minister of National Education in his return to school flyer should only be activated throughout the coming months. Some hypothesize that the experience acquired by the students during the first confinement enabled them to master all the skills in the use of digital technology at school. The reality is different.

Some skills are built relatively easily in use, others require the support of specific learning activities. The repeated use of a virtual classroom platform, for example, will have enabled most of the pupils to discover its main functionalities and to appropriate them. However, the introduction of explicit training times makes it possible to progress more quickly, often opens up other perspectives of use and, above all, greatly reduces inequalities in the face of digital technology.

The development of digital skills experience finds its limits here. It seems reasonable to ask the School to systematically train students in technical skills, which it also expects to master in the learning activities it organizes. Otherwise, there is a risk of further widening the educational deficiencies attributable to various individual and social determinants.

The challenge of skills repositories

The first significant institutional initiative to meet the training needs of young people in digital technology dates back to the 2000s with the establishment of the IT and Internet patent, declined from elementary school according to the level of education. This system included a skills framework and certification procedures.

Observed by many researchers, these effects turned out to be minor, due to the lack of sufficient enrollment of learning in appropriate school activities, lack of detailed reflection on the issues of digital didactics, lack of teacher training and lack of , above all, a clear vision of the objectives pursued.

In 2016, PIX, a public digital skills certification service, has come up with a slightly different proposition. A new skills framework has been established, globally aligned with the European digital skills reference framework DigComp developed since 2013.

Digital skills: European frame of reference. Joint research center

A platform was developed by a team within the ministry quickly set up as a public interest group, to offer activities built around the repository intended for the training, assessment and certification of skills distributed in five major areas. Developed around a contributory logic, the platform is gradually enriched with new content addressed to all audiences, including those in school education. In just a few years, it has become a valuable resource for training in the use of digital techniques.

As incentive as it may be, this platform cannot however be sufficient for the effective implementation of student training. This is why the announcement of the introduction of the "PIX course" and of the certification of the skills of all students announced by the Minister of Education in his return to school circular is good news provided it is matched. measures essential to its achievement. There remains the question of school digital skills for which serious reflection is required. With the same urgency as that of health constraints.


Jean ‑ François Cerisier will be one of the guests of the 18e edition of Ludovia, the digital educational summer university organized from August 23 to August 26, 2021 in Ax-les-Thermes, and including some debates will be broadcast online.

Through Jean-Francois Cerisier, Professor of information and communication sciences, University of Poitiers

The original version of this article was posted on The conversation.

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