In education, changes of government have made us used to announcements, reforms… Every teacher, every leader wonders what will happen. What new reforms, what place for digital. When Vincent Peillon became Minister in 2012, he tried to speak of strategy and no longer of plan. When Jean-Michel Blanquer became minister in 2018, he halted the 2015 Holland Plan, introduced computer science classes in high schools and tried to ban cell phones in schools, adhering to what the President of the Republic had said. Will the new presidential elections open a new cycle or, on the contrary, consolidate the existing one? Since the speech in Poitiers in October 2021, the education minister, who has become much calmer since his eventful end of 2021, has reduced himself to leaving the digital initiative to the prime minister.
A centralizing vision of the digital
As the elections approach, ministries are already preparing what they think will be the outcome (presumed for some). In the field of digital education and education more generally, we can see some indications: change of direction at CNED, publication of the training master plan, preparatory work for a digital education strategy at national level, progress of the Degesco school building unit, Canopé target and performance contract, etc. All these indices stand out for confirming the centralizing vision of the Ministry of Education. For the past five years, a top-down approach has been predominant in management that pays too little attention to local actors.
Regarding digital education, after the announcement of the digital education areas (TNE), one could have thought of a proposal that contained a different vision than the prime minister’s only competitive vision: society is digitized, digital it is the lever of progress and economy , so let’s move on. Yes but what ? We recently read the idea of a common equipment base Facilities that appear to have been worked on with the municipalities and ministry. One might be surprised at the lack of a preliminary analysis of the state of affairs in the companies. We can also be surprised that a few days before an election there was no answer from the ministry and its academic actors regarding the practical implementation of the GDPR while it is clearly written that the academic delegates had to “submit an annual report to the rector”… But where have those reports gone? No reaction from stakeholders involved… The top-down vision is accompanied by a great difficulty for decision-makers to propose flexible delivery frameworks adapted to the realities of local environments.
Another point deserves to be mentioned on current occasion and in connection with these procedures: The use of research and consulting companies is also present in education. A letter from the Prime Minister to all ministries dated 19 January 2019 recommended that these appeals be curtailed. According to our information and our experience, consulting companies are very present, often in support of the ministry’s senior staff (Accenture at the DNE among others) and apparently also in IT. The problem with this use of advice relates to the real competencies of civil servants in structures such as the Digital for Education department. If they resort to external resources, it is because they cannot deal with the problems that arise themselves: on the one hand it is a question of means and on the other hand it is a question of skills. Who do you call when you need help? For researchers? To “experts”? To consultants? The answer to this question deserves debate. Researchers are difficult to control and ask too many questions, experts sometimes try (rightly…) to replace the sponsor, consultants (sometimes too smug) try to submit to the client.
Nothing about inequality
On the eve of a possible reorganization of state administration, teachers and more generally local actors are skeptical. After such changes they are observant, rather submissive, knowing that “they walk with THEIR feet”. It’s what triggers that often denounced sense of immobility, even resistance. It took a major (health) crisis to test the ability to change, to accept change under duress. Because during the crisis, the sense of responsibility of the local educational actors has been shown and the use of digital technologies has been confirmed. Unfortunately, the ministry wanted to learn the lessons too quickly, in the fall of 2020 by building the “States General of Digital”. Too much, too fast, too early, sloppy, the results written before the consultations (Retex) carried out were even thoroughly analyzed. On the one hand, the crisis was not over at that point, on the other hand, the ensuing uncertainties caused tension and thus increased all resistance.
Today, based on the observed facts, we have the feeling that educational leaders are “preparing to continue”. Always as reluctant to a local and participatory approach as reluctant to debate and co-construction, each preserves its own backyard, trying to sustain itself (or plan for the future) over time. Reading the candidates’ programs is sufficiently clear to understand that in more than half of the speeches the term “fundamentals” dominates. The current minister carried this thought from his appointment, i.e. no “breath”, no “impulse”, but a retreat there too, a kind of “reaction” to the troubled world. Of course, the importance of digital literacy is not a sufficient challenge in the face of such remarks and is never mentioned except by demonstrating the progress that computer technologies represent. However, the Senate report (autumn 2021) on illectronism reveals the failure of a survey conducted by the then Prime Minister in 1998. More broadly, the issue of inequalities in our society remains on the fringes of policy choices that are seen as almost inevitable and inherent in our societies. Every actor in the field of education is confronted daily with these inequalities, these differences that create tensions but also feelings of powerlessness. Digital technology is just another element that widens inequalities, as the use of books and writing as discriminants has done in the past, without school succeeding in narrowing the gaps. It is not enough to learn to read, write, do arithmetic, it is necessary to take advantage of all the elements of our personal and professional environment, especially the digital one (ubiquitous), in order to achieve satisfactory development. When digital technology creates new inequalities, we need to act fast from an early age and at school.