Schools closed to students: lessons from the virus (and some tips for parents)


The closure of schools and universities for an indefinite period is necessary due to public health requirements. The Ministry of National Education says it has anticipated the situation, but the organizational problems are far from all resolved. Secondary teachers are summoned to their establishments, and it will be up to them to organize themselves as best as possible with the digital tools available, before, undoubtedly, going back home to provide distance learning and monitoring of their students .

Things will be more complicated for primary education and, as far as nursery school is concerned, it is difficult to see how teachers could ensure the “pedagogical continuity” that we are promised using digital technology…

In this regard, it should be recalled that teachers are among the very few professions to which the employer does not provide the work tools essential to the exercise of their profession. Each and everyone must, if he wants to correctly perform the tasks imposed on him, personally obtain a computer, a printer and a scanner …

It is as if the workers on a construction site had to buy their shovels and picks! When we talk about the necessary upgrading of the teaching staff, this is a point which is not necessarily in detail.

But, beyond these technical questions, the closure of educational establishments also raises many pedagogical questions which can, moreover, allow us to think beyond the emergency situation, to a broader reflection. on the conditions of education…

To learn together

Let us first recall one of the founding principles of our “republican school”. School is not simply a place for each child to carry out effective learning individually, it is also a “space-time” where different children come together to “learn together”.

They meet there to hear the same tutelary word from a master who calls them to establish themselves collectively, to be challenged by the same questions and to discover themselves capable of accessing knowledge that liberates and unites them with times, but also to activate between them the solidarities that will allow them to rise above themselves, to become more intellectually equipped, more lucid and more autonomous.

If it is therefore essential to make known and use all the possible tools to allow students to continue their education at a distance (the CNED device “My class at home” , the “Digital work spaces” that exist in colleges and high schools, platforms like “Pronote” , library sites… before GAFAM takes over the market!), it would be completely illusory to believe that it is possible to “replace” completely school by a set of strictly individual learning devices, as numerous and sophisticated as they are.

This is why today we must set up, whenever possible, collective support from a distance by teachers who re-establish, through videoconferencing for example, the symbolic space of the class that remains a founding framework in which the work of each and everyone can get involved and take on its full meaning.

This is why, too, it is possible and useful to allow children to communicate with each other by telephone or Internet: they can thus take stock of their way of organizing their personal work, identify the problems encountered and orient themselves. reciprocally towards such or such reading, such or such exercise. And do not hesitate, in the same perspective, to organize distance communications between a student in difficulty and an older student: the first will only master what he will explain and the second will gain new knowledge with a different light than that of books or the Internet.

Time to write

But the school is also, consubstantially, the construction of entry into the written word . By learning, from primary school, reading and writing, but also by the progressive access to increasingly long and complex readings and writings .

Reading and writing means, in effect, gaining a deeper understanding of the world and an increasingly rigorous expression of one’s own thinking. Reading and writing means embarking on unexplored paths, discovering new perspectives and communicating with others by always better integrating the requirements of precision, accuracy and truth which allow access to serene and fruitful communication.

The role of school is to make our children discover that reading and writing, at the level of complexity corresponding to their age, are not simply “tests” on an academic “obstacle course” , but the opportunity to access unsuspected new satisfactions … However, paradoxically, the usual rhythm of life of our students and the traditional fragmentation of school exercises, do not always allow us to enter serenely in the written word.

Why not take advantage, then, of the deceleration days that are looming to tame the written word? Why not engage our children in new readings, even if it means reading the same texts with them or in parallel, so that we can then quietly exchange our impressions, our understanding, our objections? Why not take the opportunity to make sure that our children write to each other, but also to write to them and to have them write to us? Beyond the texts and quick messages exchanged on social networks, could we not (re) start writing real long letters?

I have often, for my part, replied to parents who complained that their children did not listen to them: “They do not listen to you… Write to them! And don’t despair that they will answer you! ” And then, here it is, that our children will finally have time to write poems and love letters, resume a botched essay or essay, write and share reviews of movies or books, write articles for the newspaper of the class which can, of course, be published on the “web” despite the confinement. And, why not, a neighborhood or establishment-wide news or correspondence contest?

Let us fight the epidemic of the virus which isolates us by the multiplication of texts of all kinds, which involve us in the demanding writing, connect us in spite of all confinements and will come to rejoice our days!

Manage screens

If all this is not enough to fill the days, there is – we hesitate to recall, as it is obvious – a multitude of activities that allow to reinvest effectively, especially with the smallest, the acquisitions made at school: cooking, DIY or board games, represent extraordinary opportunities to “do together”: confronting problems, finding ways to solve them, wondering about the knowledge to be mobilized…

What could be more useful to become more curious and independent at the same time, and to benefit all the better from the lessons and lessons when the school time comes back?

But, for this, we must resist, at least partially, the fabulous attraction of screens: resist and, perhaps even, change the relationship with the screen of our children. Thus, adults will be able, for once, to try to play electronic games with their children, if only to be able to exchange with them, then, on their content: not to leave our children alone in the face of the surge violence of many of these games is, in fact, essential so that they can distance themselves from them…

As for television, which risks seeing its audiences increase considerably during this period to the delight of advertisers, it will be – unexpected opportunity – to learn to watch it intelligently. For this, a simple watchword, since an adult will be present alongside the child: “For each program, choose before, watch with, speak after”.

Break the uninterrupted flow, put an end to zapping, take the time for a followed, attentive and critical vision of selected programs: the most effective counter-poison against the subjugation of “available brain time”, an essential preparation for exercise such decisive attention in all forms of academic and professional success.

We could even hope – let’s dream a little! – that the public service of the audio-visual is mobilized to come, in these difficult days, to support the public service of national education: there is immense wealth in the archives of the INA which could, without major difficulties and very quickly, be used and presented from an educational perspective.

The fact remains that the success of all this is subject to the possibility that parents will have to accompany their children during these days. However, on this point, inequality is essential … and that is precisely why we invented school!

Perhaps it is necessary to take advantage of this crisis to reiterate it loud and clear: our children go to class to benefit from an education which allows each and everyone to access the most demanding works of culture, whatever their origins, material and intellectual resources of their families, life accidents they have had to face.

It is a matter of well-trained professionals, a matter of necessarily differentiated teaching combining the construction of a common framework and specific support, a matter of the will of the State, too, to give more and better to those who have less. School issue, but, more generally, political issue: the fight against educational inequalities is inseparable from the fight against social inequalities: the coronavirus reminds us of this. Let us hope that his lesson is not too quickly forgotten.


Author Bio: Philippe Meirieu is Emeritus Professor of Educational Sciences at Lumière Lyon 2 University