A cross between a teaching guide, a verb conjugation book and a digital textbook, Kartable.fr is hugely popular: 1 out of 10 French schoolchildren visit the site. Officially launched in September 2013 by Sarah Besnaïnou and Julien Cohen-Solal, two graduates of prestigious Paris business school HEC and web and education enthusiasts, this online school encyclopaedia had 900,000 visits last June, just before the baccalauréat. So although use of tablets in the classroom may not yet be widespread in France – largely due to budgetary reasons – free online education platforms are proving valuable learning tools. We met a young entrepreneur, Sarah Besnaïnou.
A major education content portal
“It all began three years ago when I was a teaching maths as part of an extra coaching scheme,” says Sarah. “Julien asked me to work with him. He had already set up a free maths lesson website for secondary school kids, and it was a success!”
When they realised there were no free platforms covering the whole school curriculum, they came up with the idea to expand Julien’s website to include all the subjects taught at junior and senior secondary school.
“The website was already really popular,” says Sarah. “Feedback was very positive. The visitors liked having access to clear, reliable content via a single interface.”
And so Kartable.fr was born.
Digital: motivating kids to learn
Like an online encyclopaedia, the website features the entire range of school subjects and for each level. Content is arranged by chapter and there are exercises with answers. In addition, the users can benefit from tips on how to organise and manage their time and revision schedules for their exams. The site therefore offers students all the tools they need to pass their exams.
For these two entrepreneurs, it was vital to provide a simple, intuitive service that students could use easily. “In three clicks, you can get the hang of the site, which motivates students to work. Digital technology should ideally make people want to learn,” says Sarah.
But the site isn’t just for students: teachers too find it a valuable source of teaching content for their lessons. As Sarah explains:
“The aim is to provide an everyday working tool that addresses the needs of both students and teaching staff.”
Digital learning possibilities
As far as teachers in France are concerned, expectations from such tools are high, particularly in light of the new digital teaching methods being experimented in the US and UK, for example, such as the flipped classroom:
“More and more teachers want to spend less time in class just reading out their lessons and more time focusing on questions and making sure students have understood.”
This “less reciting and more learning” approach is something Kartable could develop. And whilst traditional textbooks and exercise books aren’t being phased out altogether, digital technology is certainly revolutionising education. As Sarah puts it:
“These tools open up possibilities that traditional paper resources can’t in terms of interactivity and learning.”
The whole interactive approach is something the Kartable team are currently developing, and recently launched a range of apps for tablets and smartphones to prepare for the baccalauréat, in an attempt to align with students’ new digital habits.
A monumental project
So how does one go about compiling all this knowledge and getting the support of the education establishment? Whilst collecting the content was a huge task, Sarah Besnaïnou says she was able to count on the enthusiasm of around fifty teachers to help provide content for the site with programmes for all levels and subjects:
“It’s a monumental project. You have to be simple, intuitive and exhaustive. But schools liked our project and recognised its value, and that was very rewarding.”
Mission accomplished for the start-up!