A day of reflection on the democratization of the digital in education

Digital inequalities and the importance of digital justice were the focus of discussions during the second public session of the consensus conference on the use of digital media in education. This day, organized by CTREQ, allowed education experts and practitioners to continue the discussions started in February during the first session.

Organized by the Transfer Center for Educational Success of Quebec (CTREQ), the Consensus Conference on the Use of Digital is a multi-month process. As in the first session, experts who had prepared various preparatory texts had to answer questions from the jury members who wanted to enrich their reflection.

The members of the consensus conference jury, composed of practitioners and chaired by Professor Simon Collin, are now responsible for formulating final recommendations for public decision-makers by June.

At the end of the day, Stéphane Lehoux, Assistant Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation and Information Resources at the Quebec Ministry of Education, took the floor and indicated that “the conclusions of the consensus conference will be an important input for the Ministry in pursuing the work on digital transformation of the school network”.

For more information about the process and the first session, we invite you to (re)read our report.

Democratizing digital use to promote justice

The second day unfolded through four exchange blocks. Despite the different themes of each block, common messages emerged on several occasions: the importance of developing digital skills for all, the need to train school staff, the role schools can (or cannot) play in reducing inequalities, the need for a provide a current school that enables students to become savvy citizens in tomorrow’s society.

Many also expressed the opinion that if the pandemic has made it possible to take a leap forward in the use of digital technologies, much also needs to be done to ensure their pedagogical integration, centered on programs and student needs. “Inequality has come under scrutiny with the pandemic. They existed before, but we chose not to include them. Today we have no choice,” argues Jean Gabin Ntebutse, professor at the University of Sherbrooke.

Martine Pellerin, professor at the University of Alberta, went even further: “The pandemic has shown that teachers are not digitally prepared. In some circles we hit a wall. In her opinion, the school community must share some of the blame for the inequalities in the provision of online services that students have (or have not) received as part of distance learning. She reiterated on a few occasions that students should be entitled to the same services whether they are remote or in class.

Train, train, train

Therefore, the importance of providing teachers with continuing education and professional development related to digital technologies has been stressed by several stakeholders. “The pandemic has forced teachers to choose digital media. Now they must be curious and have the desire to learn more,” argues Josée Laprise, remedial teacher at the Center de services scolaire du Lac-Saint-Jean.

For some speakers of the day there is no doubt that teacher education is crucial for the integration and democratization of digital technologies in schools. “We need to support and value teachers who are developing their digital skills,” says Dominic Boudreau, Student Life Advisor at the Physical Science Demonstration Center. His organization welcomes school groups to its premises for conducting activities aimed at developing scientific culture.

On the other hand, further training does not only mean mastering digital tools. “It’s also about developing an attitude and a critical mind in the face of digital technology,” explains Mr. Boudreau. This statement was supported later in the day by Mélanie Tremblay, a professor at the University of Quebec at Rimouski (Campus de Lévis): “Innovation is not in the tools”.

Martine Pellerin expressed a similar view: “We need a renewal of knowledge and practices at all levels of education. We are still far too busy using equipment. We don’t talk enough about citizenship in the digital age. She adds that it is normal that not all school staff have the same skills – “we live in a heterogeneous world” – but there should be common ground for everyone so that young people’s digital education becomes more consistent. Currently, she argues, ‘trainers don’t even have the skills to train future teachers’.

Therefore, the presence of digital technologies in the classroom varies greatly from one region to another, from one school to another, from one level to another and even from one teacher to another. Students may have a teacher who digitally integrates a lot one year and not at all the next year. “Teachers don’t all have the same attitude towards digital technology and this sometimes has a discriminatory effect on students. They are dependent on the decisions of their teachers, which vary greatly from year to year,” noted Josée Laprise.

“Teachers are important agents in democratizing the use of digital technologies in education. Everyone should be able to do this. You must be up to date! ‘ concluded Martine Pellerin on the subject.

And young people in all this?

Some players in the school world might be tempted to say that young people are already ‘digitally proficient’ as they are constantly glued to their phones. “Let’s stop taking for granted that students are digital media savvy, that they are necessarily multitaskers. Young people do not form a monolithic block when it comes to digital use,” said Jean Gabin.

Furthermore, he mentioned that young people simply use the technological tools they have in their hands intuitively. “It’s up to schools to give them the opportunity to develop their digital skills, to become aware of the problems that lie behind technological interfaces. Likewise, the technology used in schools must respond to specific educational needs.”

By delaying the use of digital technologies and the critical thinking that comes with it, schools are failing in their mission to educate citizens to be involved in society, believes Mr. Gabin. “Technology is everywhere! »

think of the parents

The pandemic has definitely highlighted the importance of communication between school and family, between teachers and parents. Another problem arose: Schools communicate with parents mainly via e-mail or applications (Mozaik or other). However, have you wondered if parents are able to use these means of communication? Do you offer parents other means of communication?

Josée Thivierge, education consultant and researcher at the ECOBES center in Cégep de Jonquière, focused her remarks on the situation of parents. “The school must take care to establish a dialogue with the parents. It must not only send information. She needs to make sure they can respond. School plays a role in developing parents’ digital skills. »

She gave two examples based on research with parents. Some of them have difficulty in writing, make misspellings, etc. If the only way to communicate with the school is via email, they simply won’t. “School puts them in a situation of unease. You don’t feel up to it. »

In some environments, parents speak neither French nor English. The children then become performers. On the other hand, in certain contexts, a translation could show a real desire for a dialogue with the parents and prevent the child from being between the two.

“The more parents feel heard, the more involved and become allies. »

The final word goes to Normand Landry, professor at TÉLUQ University: “From now on, digital inequalities must be treated in the same way as social inequalities. Digital resources could be distributed according to schools’ socio-economic status. Let’s give communities some leeway to create solutions based on local priorities. Let’s stop wall-to-wall solutions in Quebec schools. School stakeholders are at the heart of the digital response.”

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