A graduate of Polytechnique and Télécom Paris, Mathieu Jeandron began his career in public service in 2002 determined to address issues that affect his fellow citizens. He began by working on technical projects in the Interior Ministry’s IT department. Later, he joined the government’s interdepartmental ICT department where he coordinated the IT strategy. Then in September 2015 he joined the Ministry of Education as Director of Digital for Education.
So how do you go about modernising an institution with over 850,000 teachers that manages more than 12 million students? What sort of projects have been deployed? How to work with teachers on digital-related issues? These are some of the questions Mathieu Jeandron answered for us.
MAKING STUDENTS ENLIGHTENED PLAYERS IN THE Digital WORLD
What’s the role of the Department of Digital for Education?
The department is rather unusual in that it combines two types of skills: the IT skills you would traditionally find in an IT department and those of all the people involved in updating teaching methods in the digital world. We work on projects to do with transforming the relationship with users – parents, students and teachers – as well as purely back-office matters such as payroll processing and management. Basically, anything that enables the Ministry to run smoothly.
The department employs a total of 200 people, almost 150 of whom are in charge of coordinating IT for the Ministry and the other fifty work on developing uses and the French government’s digital plan for education.
What major projects are you working on?
There’s the president’s plan, of course: education has been a major focus of François Hollande’s term of office (in May this year Hollande announced that the government had earmarked €1 billion over three years for a digital plan for schools, Ed.)
In line with the reforms implemented in French junior secondary schools, the government has decided to ensure faster and more widespread deployment of digital technologies in schools, particularly from Year 8 and upwards, with substantial investments in providing digital training and equipment (tablets and mobile tools) for teachers. This involves a number of projects on new digital-related teaching methods and in particular training in media and information.
“We want all the students to learn the best uses of digital. The aim is to build an approach that makes children enlightened players in the digital world and not just network consumers.”
Before mass deployments, since the beginning of the 2015 academic year, we started with some pilot schools: at certain schools we’ve supplied equipment, trained teachers and rolled out digital resources. So we can now see how teachers, students and schools in general have accepted digital tools and can measure the results in terms of educational value.
“Using digital in schools isn’t just about being fun or modern, it’s about increasing educational efficiency.”
Digital technology allows teachers to spend more time with each of the students, progress faster in class and measure levels of adherence. It means we can do lots of things more simply and smoothly and have a more differentiated approach with each individual student. For example, there have been a number of experiments with the flipped-classroom and having students attend lectures from home, using digital resources, so that the classroom sessions can focus on understanding and exploring subjects in depth and addressing problems in a more individual, specific way.
What other projects are you working on?
We’ve set up a portal called Éduthèque featuring resources from public cultural and scientific institutions. Thanks to a major partnership with, to name but a few, Franco-German cultural TV channel Arte, the Louvre, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), we’ve been able to supply teachers with a number of digital resources provided by these institutions.
In conjunction with teachers’ support network Canopé, we’ve set up a professional social network for teachers called Viaeduc. This enables teachers to exchange views on digital resources and tools and teaching practices in an informal context.
And then there’s M@gistère, an online training platform for teachers. Vocational training is a major issue: teachers can’t always take time off from school or find time outside school hours to attend courses. So with this online training platform they can attend courses remotely.
concretE SOLUTIONS TO COMBAT inertiA
Have you come across any obstacles to transformation?
As with everything, we do come across a certain inertia which is due to the size of the Ministry. In order for change to affect everyone, it takes time and requires strong belief and lots of examples, experimenting and demonstrations. It’s much easier to get people on board with something concrete than a theoretical strategy that people might reject because it seems a bit artificial.
“We’re all busy with the current status quo. The biggest difficulty with change is that, before the new system takes over, there’s an extra workload to cope with; which isn’t easy.”
At the moment we’re working on textbooks. When we talk to textbook publishers, we see that they’re aware of the major changes their model is undergoing: moving from paper to interactive eBooks is an investment that they’re prepared to make. One of the obstacles is the need for close collaboration between all the members of the ecosystem: unless tablets aren’t deployed on a large scale, publishers are reluctant to invest in digital textbooks because not many people will use them. But on the other hand, until digital resources are easily available and accessible, there’s no point having tablets in the classroom as users won’t have access to much and will have to revert to paper textbooks.
>>> Also on our blog: At St. Joseph’s school, teachers write their own digital textbooks <<<
The main source of inertia is this interdependence between the various parties involved which means we have to do everything at the same time. And speaking of resources, you must bear in mind that they can only be used by teachers who’ve received training, in schools which have high-speed Internet and with a Head who’s on board and is driving the change. So a successful digital deployment depends on the combination of several factors.
“Where digital in schools is concerned, everyone agrees that for it to work, everyone needs to move forward together.”
CollaborATING WITH TEACHERS IN A bottom up RATIONALE
How do you manage to work with the teachers?
Where the teachers are concerned, there’s a strong nationwide movement and a real desire to progress, with major investments and a number of nationwide solutions implemented.
>>> Also on our blog: Twittclasses, twiterature, Frenchteach: teaching-in-the-digital-age <<<
We’ve organised things with a bottom-up approach: we encourage teachers to give their input and most of the time, they’re the ones who make the digital resources for the publishers. So it’s very much an operational approach.
“We try not to impose any restrictions in terms of developing new uses. We do set forth best practices and provide resources, but we also make a point of giving the schools a certain amount of leeway.”
The digital revolution in education is underway: the various players are aware of how urgent the transformation is. Most teachers are already prepared to bring schools into the digital age, as a number of articles on our blog have illustrated. Where school is concerned, the time for change is NOW!