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France's G7 Presidency: From Digital to Education Strategy

Liam Bekirsky, G7 Research Group
May 16, 2019

While France aspires to be a leader in the G7 on bridging the digital divide, it must undertake serious structural reforms to ensure competitivity in an increasingly digital workplace. What steps has the French government taken to address this divide — and are they enough?

On 8 July 2013, France introduced the Loi d'orientation et de programmation pour la refondation de l'école de la République to address the technological imbalance between schools in both tools and skills. Article 38 states that training for using digital tools and resources should be taught in schools, and article 16 announces the creation of the public service for digital education. More recently, and building on earlier reforms, the Rapport de la mission d'information de l'Assemblée nationale sur l'école dans la société du numérique was adopted on October 13, 2018. The report reviews the situation of the integration of digital in schools and makes 25 proposals to better guide the transition toward digitalization. It nonetheless continues to highlight France's accumulated delay in the development of the relationship between digital and education.

Other G7 members boast ambitious technology education plans. Aligning with the EU's 2010 flagship initiative, A Digital Agenda for Europe, Germany's Federal Ministry of Economic and Affairs and Energy committed to a digital learning strategy in its Digital Strategy 2025 published in 2016, building on its basic universal internet access in schools to make Germany a digital infrastructure leader in the education sector and provide all students' basic knowledge in information science and programming. The United States introduced a similarly ambitious National Education Technology Plan in 2010, updated in 2016 and 2017 and in Canada the People for Education report in 2014 titled Digital Learning in Ontario Schools: The "New Normal" confirmed that a large proportion of Ontario teachers were actively integrating information and communications technology (ICT) in their classrooms.

A slow pedagogical reinvention

UNESCO has identified three pillars to guide the training and preparation of teachers for ICT in classrooms in its 2015 ICT Competency Framework for Teachers: technological literacy, deepening knowledge and creating knowledge. And there are some signs that France's Macron government is committed to addressing the digital divide challenges highlighted by studies and reports. Within the parameters of the centralized French education system, the Ministry of Education created an education innovation lab called 110 Bis in June 2018. The innovation lab for National Education at the ministry is designed to offer actors from the education sector the opportunity to collaboratively develop solutions to respond to challenges facing the education system and is currently hosting its first projects.

Macron's government also published in 2018 a report on artificial intelligence, which made many recommendations to modernize education policies, and called for the need to go beyond an "adequate" approach to designing policy. The report argued that training can no longer prepare pre-determined careers; it must prepare for adaptability and the learning of transversal competencies linked to creativity. Digital can make sure these innovations are well integrated into pedagogy.

The Ministry of Education created the Certificat informatique et internet niveau 2 – enseignant (C2i2e), to certify teachers who have the competencies necessary to use ICT in the classroom. Although the certificate is not a necessary condition to validate teaching licenses, the Ministry of Education expects that all candidates receive it over the course of their first three years of teaching, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The ministry also announced the creation and deployment of new technological resources to support learning, notably in French language and mathematics, using artificial intelligence. Nonetheless, its priorities in terms of ICT integration seem to prioritize pedagogical efficiency as opposed to the transformation of the pedagogical approach deemed necessary by UNESCO's guide for the phase of creation of knowledge. There is little to no mention of open technology in France's digital education strategy, or the involvement of students, or even teachers, in the creation of knowledge. There are a few references to innovation of technology and the state, but none to making the teachers responsible for moving beyond basic technological literacy.

Transforming education and training for innovation

ICTs have the potential to transform the education system. They can help meet the needs of all students, particularly those in difficulty, and they can offer new opportunities to meet unaddressed regional needs. They allow teachers to make pedagogy and learning more efficient and innovative, all while allowing teachers and students to develop their disciplinary as well as global and transversal competencies. But beyond these questions relevant to education, the primary motor of reform remains the economy: to ensure France's competitivity in an increasingly digital workplace by ensuring the digital competence of its workforce. Without successful reforms, France will not be able to be a leader in the world of technology.

While the French education system is advancing regarding ICT integration in classrooms, it is not clear that the Ministry of Education is yet ready for the paradigm shift toward an approach based on ICT as a tool for knowledge creation advocated by UNESCO and the OECD. Far from leading the G7 in digital strategy and development as France aspires to during its G7 presidency, it is now catching up to other G7 countries such as Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom, which have developed comprehensive and ambitious digital education and training agendas. Nonetheless, the most difficult challenge for France's ambition to be a digital leader in the G7 is not its fellow members' head start. As the name of France's current education project l'École de la confiance suggests, the biggest battle the government has on its hands may be reversing its deficit in public confidence.

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Photo of Liam BekirskyLiam Bekirsky is an education and digital policy specialist and master's student in new and digital technologies and public policy at Sciences Po. He is also a certified teacher and earned his teaching license from York University in Toronto.

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