It only took a few days for “pedagogical continuity” to become a subject of national concern. Until recently, this was a principle that was invoked when talking about students moving from one class or cycle to the next – and the arrangements required to ensure student success during these transitions.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, pedagogical continuity refers to the need to provide education to the 12 million students whose schools, colleges and high schools are closed. It is part of public discourse as a whole new dimension of Business Continuity Plans ( BCPs ) which anticipate the consequences of major crises on vital services, through strategies aimed at preserving their activity as much as possible.
Formally present in the plans of the academies, pedagogical continuity consists essentially in the inventory of digital means likely to be mobilized and very little – if anything – is said about how to implement them in function and prepare teachers for it.
Thus, questioning educational continuity in the case of the current pandemic poses both the question of its objectives in terms of educational policies, that of the nature and effectiveness of the device announced by the State, but also of the whole other initiatives in the field.
Articulate local and national
The system put in place by the State, tested from the first school closings to students in the Oise and Haut-Rhin, is based on the link between a national offer – that of the National Center for Distance Education ( CNED) – and mobilization of teachers in schools with their own resources.
CNED’s contribution lies in its “My class at home” program, which consists of online resources allowing primary school, college and high school students to review their beginning of year courses in most disciplines.
This set of resources is supplemented by the provision of platforms allowing teachers to organize virtual classes, by combining web-conference and document sharing. At the local level, teachers can rely on the digital work environments deployed in their establishments (ENT) and all the resources acquired for their attention by the State, by their reference local authority and by the establishment.
There are many ways of thinking about education outside of school and digital technology has been shaking up all educational formats for years. The school has not fully grasped the new ways of accessing information and the new ways of learning that it is establishing. However, the educational continuity plan announced by the Minister responds to a logic of substitution of digital for traditional courses, through tools aimed at reproducing at best at home the conditions of learning within educational establishments.
So there is not much innovation in the way of thinking of the school, when the conditions could have invited imagination and institutional creativity. On the other hand, several arguments cast doubt on the merits of this approach and, unfortunately, on its effectiveness, even if there is not the slightest doubt about the commitment of the State services or that of the teachers. who do and will do “at best” for the implementation of this educational continuity plan.
The first is that of unpreparedness. It is beyond dispute that the scale and dynamics of the health crisis were hardly predictable and were in fact not expected. It is therefore quite normal that the educational resources acquired by the State or developed by its operators such as CNED or Réseau Canopé are not sufficient to meet the needs of students and their teachers in view of weeks or months of closure. The establishments.
It should be noted that many school publishers and producers of digital educational resources offer temporarily free access to their products, which we do not doubt responds to a real surge of solidarity while ensuring them a solid promotion. On the other hand, it is more worrying to observe that the initial and continuous training of teachers does not allow them to have solid skills in techno-pedagogical engineering.
This is true in the ordinary context of the classroom and even more so in the context of distance. There are of course many very experienced and competent teachers in this field, but they constitute a minority of the 870,000 French teachers.
The second argument is that of the verticality of the process, which in particular ignores the reality and the necessities of educational inventiveness in the field. If the Minister of National Education keeps a firm and relevant speech on the need to combine educational practices with research, it is impossible to ignore that educational practices, even if they benefit from this essential scientific support, are invented in the field.
In this radically new context where the entire national education system is about to switch from conventional formal education to a distance learning system for an indefinite period, it would seem reasonable to bet on the capacity of educational establishments and of their teachers to invent solutions in the diversity of situations, students and teachers.
We are therefore surprised by the discourse centered on the implementation of institutional educational devices and resources which are after all limited when nothing is said which could enhance the role of associations and collectives of teachers who are nevertheless likely to play a major role.
The third argument concerns students who it is difficult to imagine that they will all find at home the favorable conditions offered by the School. Learning requires a favorable atmosphere and an organization that limits distraction and provides personalized assistance and support.
In the absence of the school framework that has been thought of for this purpose, it is a safe bet that only a fraction of the students will be able to maintain the attention necessary for learning activities that require a lot and will be able to overcome all the difficulties learning. This is why it seems essential to rethink activities to increase student engagement.
Experience shows that the use of digital technology is not a motivating factor in itself – except for a short-lived one – and that it is the nature of the activities offered and the quality of human support which are decisive. In addition, there is the question of the conditions required to be a “good student” at a distance, a successful student.
In addition to the availability of technical equipment, which raises the question of social equity, there is that of skills. Technical skills of course, with a trompe l’oeil that suggests to adults that the youngest are more competent in the use of digital techniques than they actually are and that the distribution of these skills is strongly correlated with social variables.
Non-digital skills also such as those of time management, task planning or document organization which are decisive and whose absence is often compensated for at School by the support of teachers. Finally, it is the autonomy of the students that is questioned, much more critical from a distance than at School.
Let us finish on the recurring question but which takes on a new relief from the equipment and the situation of teachers at home. While the State is counting on them to organize student learning activities and support them remotely using digital techniques, very few are those who have equipment at their disposal and when it is if so, this is a matter of equipment policies for local authorities.
In these conditions, counting on the commitment of teachers amounts to betting that they have trained themselves, that they have self-financed their equipment and their connectivity, that they will be able to mobilize the resources made available by the State but also to identify and use those of the private publishers who will have kindly made them available and those, which they will finally engage in a broad collaborative approach with their colleagues.
Finally, rather than trying to reproduce the school at home with its school form inherited from Condorcet, the Covid-19 pandemic could be and may be a magnificent laboratory for rethinking school in the digital age .
Author Bio: Jean-François Cerisier is Professor of Information and Communication Sciences at the University of Poitiers