This year, as part of a strategy to revolutionise and digitise Education in France, thousands of junior and secondary schoolchildren will be starting optional IT code lessons and testing state-of-the-art digital equipment in the classroom.
Stéphane Troussel, the young (44) president of the Seine-Saint-Denis* departmental council, will be opening 12 “totally digital” junior secondary schools in one of the most disadvantaged departments in France, as part of a plan for modernising schools which could be extended to the rest of the country.
“Education: our number-one priority”
To give everyone access to education and phase out economic and social inequalities: this is the aim of education in France, and is both a right to which all citizens are entitled, and a duty of the Government, which has launched a major digital education plan. The President himself mentioned in his Bastille Day speech that France should “pave the way for digital schools.”
Some areas, such as the Seine-Saint-Denis department, have been pulling out all the stops to ensure their schools are among the best-equipped in the country. They will certainly have their work cut out: a recent international survey of schools revealed that France was lagging behind other European countries where digital technology is concerned.
Stéphane Troussel, whose duties as president of the departmental which counts the highest number of families living below the world poverty line in France include managing its junior secondary schools, believes this initiative will require proactive political involvement:
“Education is our number-one priority. A lot of our schools are in serious need of improvement in terms of building and equipment, which is why the Exceptional Investment Plan was set up in 2010 to build or renovate junior schools and thus restore faith in the country’s schools.”
The Seine-Saint-Denis departmental council has the “clout to raise substantial funds:” a budget of €700 million means a major overhaul of its education infrastructures is possible. And the sooner the better: for in addition to being one of the poorest departments in France, it is also the youngest, where the number of schoolchildren is rising exponentially. So how are Stéphane Troussel and his team going about implementing this change?
Bringing schools into the 21st century: an “educational shock”
“When building these third-millennium schools, we wanted to show that schools have to take the plunge where digital technology is concerned. We want to bring about an ‘educational shock’.”
The “shock” began with 12 “totally digital” junior schools: 600 students supplied with 400 PCs, 200 tablets, dynamic digital screens, colour printers and even, in some cases, 3D printers. And Stéphane Troussel doesn’t plan to stop there:
“In addition to these 12 ‘digital show-schools’, we also plan to provide all the department’s 125 junior secondary schools with ultra-fast broadband.”
For all schools to benefit one day from the same resources as these pilot schools, Stéphane Troussel and his team are anticipating future needs:
“One of the difficulties is offering a long-term, comprehensive solution to address all the issues of use and maintenance. That’s what our educational teams are concerned about.”
So it’s very much an issue of infrastructure and equipment, but the ‘digital maker’ has a few ideas about this…
From tablets to the cloud: a digital overhaul
“Bringing schools into the digital age isn’t just an educational issue, it’s also about infrastructures. There is currently a major metro and tram building project underway in the area, so it’s an ideal opportunity for us to set up ultra-fast broadband too.”
Above all the project will involve making every effort and using every resource possible to translate political plans into concrete action – and this means getting everyone involved, on a local and national level:
“The children here won’t succeed unless all the adults in charge of education don’t share the same goal: we need functional schools with scalable tools. But the real issue is of course resources. Local authorities need to find ways to increase digital investments so as not to limit our ambitions. I’m convinced that the government should also play a part and help us in this area.”
This Exceptional Investment Plan is laying the foundations for “Digital for All, Now” by planning to supply all junior schools with state-of-the-art equipment by 2015.
Seine-Saint-Denis*: Department in the Greater Paris area