digital conversion

Digital in schools: "A concept without a strategy, an unfinished deployment".

Bringing digital technology to schools has become a fully-fledged part of education policy, as enshrined in the law of 8 July 2013 on the refounding of the Republic's schools. To this end, a new public service has been created, the "educational digital public service", with the challenge for the school system to train tomorrow's citizens and professionals in digital technology, who would otherwise be unable to work in most professions or even integrate into society. The other objective was to use digital techniques as a powerful lever for pedagogical transformation, capable of changing teaching methods, improving learning and enabling continuous evaluation of results,ultimately to promote student success. According to the latest report of the Court of Auditors, the record of its implementation is disappointing.
Cive years after the 2013 law on the refounding of the Ecole de la République, this "educational digital public service" is not up to the challenges, in terms of the pedagogical transformation that was to be at the heart of the new policy, the evaluation of teachers' practices and the effects on student results, which is deemed to be limited and late, in a context of great disparity in the deployment of digital resources and uses.
The objective of this re-foundation was to teach students digital techniques for their civic and professional integration, to improve pedagogy through the use of digital services and resources in the classroom, but also to promote equal opportunities. It also aimed to modernize the management of the educational service by facilitating relations between teachers, pupils and parents.
For the Court of Auditors, although public investment in digital technology has made great progress, the conditions for the deployment of this public service are far from being met: the connection of schools and institutions is still insufficient and, in many cases, non-existent; there are still major inequalities between territories in terms of equipment for classes and pupils; the supply of digital resources, which is abundant and often innovative, is not organized; due to a lack of sufficient initial and in-service training, only a minority of teachers are comfortable with digital-based teaching methods.
To remedy the persistent inequalities in access to digital public services, the Court recommends that schools, collèges and lycées be provided with a basic digital base.
A significant financial effort since the vote of the law of 2013

Investments in digital education have increased significantly between 2013 and 2017: those of the three levels of local authorities represented €2 billion and those of the State nearly €300 million (whereas its initial commitment was announced at €1 billion). This financial effort has remained within the framework of traditional public interventions, based on the financing of individual equipment (for two-thirds of the State's credits), within a logic of calls for projects which has resulted in a policy of a non-selective window.
In order to meet the challenges, the State should have developed a strategy based on a logic of harmonization of equipment, services and digital offers for students according to the educational strata, and focused on its responsibilities: pedagogical transformation and teacher training, securing school data and access to the required level of throughput.
A public service without clear objectives
In the investment programme for the future, priority was given, against the vocation and logic of this programme, to the financing of individual mobile equipment, which transformed an action that was intended to be innovative into a simple "tablet plan". This priority to individual equipment has proved to be an outdated and unnecessarily costly policy.
Absorbing too many resources, particularly in the budgets of local and regional authorities, it has compromised investment in infrastructure and networks.

The prerequisite of the best possible level of access to networks with sufficient bandwidth for schools and educational establishments has therefore been neglected, as has the reflection on pedagogical innovation, in favour of the distribution of individual equipment of uncertain use.
An unsuccessful co-construction between the State and local authorities, persistent territorial disparities
The public service of digital education, like the entire public service of education, is part of the division of powers between the State and local authorities, provided for in the decentralization laws. The establishment of this new public service should therefore have been a co-construction between the State, responsible for teaching, curricula and pedagogy, and the local authorities, responsible for buildings, equipment and logistical services.
However, locally, in many cases, and despite the unquestionable commitment of the rectors and their services in charge of digital education, there is, rather than a co-construction, a fragmentation of public policies of public policies, which has not remedied previous territorial disparities and, in many cases, has increased them.
The initiatives of local authorities continue to make digital development part of the school landscape without an overall national framework: this or that large region announces its decision to equip all of its high school students with mobile equipment, and some departments do the same for their middle school students, despite the rate of private equipment among young people.
In fact, in the absence of a clear framework for the State's digital education policy, local and regional authorities, faced with the needs of schools and very proactive, are taking control of this aspect of public service and deciding on the directions they consider most appropriate. However, these have an impact that goes far beyond equipment issues and de facto interferes in the educational sphere. Thus, several major regions have announced their desire to set up digital teaching resources corresponding to the new curricula as part of the lycée reform, from the start of the 2019 school year, rather than renewing paper textbooks, without the Ministry, whose services support these initiatives, having given its opinion on the delicate point of a general switchover to digital textbooks. Although the academic services are consulted, they do not themselves have a national framework from the Ministry.
Responsibilities specific to the National Education system to prevail
Several long-term structuring factors have priority: teacher training, by reintroducing certification of teachers' digital skills; securing school data, especially the personal data of pupils and staff; creating a single portal for educational resources; access by schools to appropriate levels of throughput, by mobilizing funding from the current
investment programme for the future.
The appropriation by the teaching world of these new tools and methods is essential: six years after the vote on the law, what is expected of teachers in terms of digital uses remains vague.
There is a need to re-establish compulsory certification of digital skills in initial training (Master of Education, Education and Training (MEEF)) and to certify digital skills acquired in the course of one's career; establish a compulsory continuing training plan (MEN, Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI)).
There is also a need to steer the supply of digital educational resources and services; to clarify the role of public service operators in digital education, their public service missions and their modes of intervention in the competitive field (MEN).
Provide all schools and educational establishments with a basic digital base
For the still unclear notion of a digital public service for education to have tangible meaning, the persistent inequalities in access to public service in schools must be addressed within a harmonised framework at the national level and jointly at the local level between the State and the local authorities whose action is crucial in this area.
In order to give concrete content to the digital public service for education, and to facilitate access by pupils and teachers to digital resources and services, the Court of Audit proposes to provide schools, collèges and lycées with a basic digital base, combining infrastructure and equipment put in place by the responsible authority, with a commitment by the State on teacher training and the provision of resources.
In order to gain a better understanding of the operational tools of the public service, the Court wishes to complete the mapping of the speeds and connectivity of all public schools and educational establishments, by scheduling connections via the fibre-optic network and/or the possibility of connection to the networks of mobile telephone operators (MEN). It also recommends reserving public support for the acquisition of individual equipment for pupils who request it, and on social criteria (pupils on scholarships, for example) (MEN, local authorities).
The aim is to develop digital workspace devices to guarantee the protection of personal data, thanks to the unique identifier of each user in the national education system (MEN), to regain control of software for managing school life (MEN) and to ensure compliance with the employment doctrine of the future investment programme by financing only investments or experiments related to educational innovation.
Source: Court of Auditors, July 2019

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