Digital for all now

Jean-Louis Bouchard : reducing the digital divide between private, public and professional life

ECONOCOM 17 Dec 2014

Using one or more digital tools is part of everyday life in most French households. A year from now, everyone will own an average of seven connected objects. And yet in their place of work – be it a government body, local authority or, where children are concerned, at school – these same digital users don’t have the computers or tablets they are so familiar with at home. When it comes to digital equipment and uses, there is still a huge gap in France between the home and the outside world.


For this academic year, when modernising teaching is at the top of the government’s agenda, many French schoolchildren still don’t have the digital tools they need for their studies. In primary schools, the number of PCs per student in France is below the European average (12 vs. 15) and 16,000 of our schools don’t yet have Internet access. And where interactive digital whiteboards are concerned, there were only 6.5 for 1,000 students in 2014, according to the French Department of Education’s statistics.


When President François Hollande announced “a major digital plan for schools” at the beginning of this school year, he promised that “the State will do everything in its power to train teachers and ensure all schools have ultra-fast broadband,” an initiative that confirmed former Education Secretary Benoit Hamon’s statement a few months ago that he was in favour of teaching the basics of computer coding in primary schools as an optional lesson.


But has there really been a digital revolution this year: will the government’s ambitions come to anything?


The fact that the Dept. of Education has finally grasped the importance of digital uses and plans to introduce a digital culture to French school children from an early age is a very positive step. A recent TNS/INRIA poll revealed that 75% of French adults believe digital education should be introduced to the curriculum before their final year of school, and 24% are in favour of its being taught from primary school. But whilst teaching the art of surfing the web is probably a good idea, how many schools all over France will be excluded from the digital revolution due to lack of equipment or a digital education programme?


“Our school decided, as a precautionary measure, that we wouldn’t have Wi-Fi this year, but we still don’t have a wired network either, so we don’t have any digital tools!” complains Carmen B., who teaches languages at a junior secondary school near Paris. “It’s particularly shocking when you think that all the students surf the internet at home!” Experiments have shown that where education is concerned, the digital tool stimulates talents, both individually and collectively, and students’ motivation. On a more practical note, it also means students don’t have to carry such a heavy schoolbag around.
Digital innovation and entrepreneurship in France therefore needs to start from the earliest stages of learning and should ideally become as important as the three Rs.


But the ever-widening gulf between use of digital technology in private life and within private and public organisations, as illustrated above by the teacher, is not restricted to schools: the same could be said of hospitals, local authorities, public services and even private companies, who should be setting an example. It’s time that everyone benefited from digital technologies so that France doesn’t become a two-tier society, as well as lagging behind other Western countries.


The digital experience on an individual or family level begins at a very early age. Children in France must now all have access to the same opportunities at school. For this to happen, public bodies and the digital industry need to provide solutions quickly for financing the equipment, solutions and content as well as training staff in how to use new technologies. The solutions already exist: we just now need to overcome our apprehension together and remove the obstacles that are holding us back, one by one.


All over the globe, the digital revolution is happening: in France, schools, local government and authorities can’t be left behind.
Digital for All, Now!


Op-Ed by Jean-Louis Bouchard, Chairman of Econocom, originally published in the Huffington Post (in French).

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