Education: the turning point of the “Big brother” school

“They’re still fucking cops.” The confession comes from a teacher, mother of four, who every day checks the “Direct School” mobile application, the notes, schedule and behavior of her second-grade son. A few years ago, a student could have his report card signed a few seconds before leaving for university, avoiding fifteen minutes of reprimands. Imitate his parent’s signature to temporarily hide a bad grade. Make sure he didn’t have any homework for the next day without hesitation. The student, in short, was the master of information and could use it to escape school and parental orders. That era is over.

Since the early 2000s, the school has embarked on a digital transformation. And contrary to predictions, it wasn’t tablets that brought classrooms into the 21st century, but software for school life. They arrived in small steps, initially intended to facilitate the administrative management of sites. Gradually, they have been enriched with tools intended for parents. Did the teacher mark the last history homework? A notification and a few clicks later, the note is accessible. Five minutes late? An SMS will automatically alert you. A punishment considered unjust? You can submit a complaint directly to the teacher via internal messages.

‘The student stands naked in front of the system’

Ultra-connection, transparency and immediacy… These are the assets of this new “continuous” school, which in recent years was the first to emerge in private education. “It is the parents, who are now over-connected youngsters, who have pushed for more and more functionalities,” assures Marc Lefebvre, co-founder of Statim, which publishes Ecole Directe. “We should also not forget that private sector families pay dearly and expect results.”

Specifically, this software – just like “Pronote”, its public counterpart – gives parents access to a wealth of information, without having to rely on the good faith of their children: a digital textbook that is completed by the teacher after each lesson , the notes falling in real time, a dematerialized correspondence book. “My brother comes home from class one afternoon and is called names by my mother for gossiping in religion class,” Tiphaine says. But the teacher didn’t even warn him that she approved of him. He found out because my mother called him. to declare.” “We are a generation of parents who are concerned about the future. My son doesn’t tell me anything and it’s reassuring to have this information,” adds his mother.

A transcript of grades by subject and a graph that places the student’s average by subject in relation to the class, on Ecole Directe.

“If parents are given grades and punishments before students can access them themselves, that’s an anomaly,” laments Pierre Merle*, a sociologist specializing in school issues and student rights. “The student stands naked in front of the system, it takes away any defensive strategy. Even though these are sometimes useful warning signs for his career, this can cause a loss of autonomy that is rather unfavorable for him in the long term,” says the researcher. So strategies are put in place: “The national sport of students is to try and crack Direct School,” laughs the designer, who regrets that some “barjos” parents “connect 10 times a day to check the notes”. “But hey, the average is five visits a week, half of which are trivial administrative information,” he says.

Anti-stall effects

Marc Lefebvre prefers to praise the anti-dropout effects of this kind of software. Because beyond the “police” aspect, these tools are attractive because of their educational qualities: students can find their online lessons and additional resources at any time, anticipate homework… For parents, it is the instinct of control that is put to the test. asked. “I was too mobilized in the beginning,” recalls Samira, mother of a teenager in the 4th grade. “Now I’ve mastered the tool and can avoid conflict by looking for answers. The challenge is no longer to discover what’s hidden, but to jump straight to the important step. : how to solve these five in math on?

Communication between school and family is also facilitated. Both children and parents (who have different access codes) can contact a teacher via private message. And vice versa. “The orientation period in the 9th grade is intense stress for the parents, it is reassuring for them to send us an email on Saturday at 10 p.m. That does not mean that we have to respond within the hour,” assures Sébastien, history- teacher at boarding school. However, he acknowledges “a greater amount of work”, “more demanding parents” and “the risk of being eaten”. Evenings, weekends, holidays … with this software, school can be anywhere, anytime, if you’re not careful. This raises questions about students’ right to disconnect. “On Christmas Day I was correcting copies, wondering if I would enter the notes into the software on December 24 in the morning, even if that would ruin the mood for some. And then I said to myself no, the Christmas truce is important “, says Sebastien.

On the student side, we also get caught up in the game: “I’ve always known this system,” explains Tiphaine, a young Lorraine baccalaureate and first-year medical student. “I consulted my notes every day. What struck me was that the bad ones are shown in bold and in red, it urges failure,” recalls this good student, pointing out the increased risk of relying more on the note. then concentrate on copying. “Teachers should always return the copies before reporting the grade, at the risk of reinforcing the discouragement and comparisons that plague the most vulnerable students,” says Pierre Merle. Some branches have also chosen to disable the display of notes on the software, in order to avoid these perverse effects.

Finally, have these software programs really changed the school? “Yes and no. Students will always be smarter than parents. And parents who are not interested in their children’s education will no longer be interested in software,” explains Marc Lefebvre, publisher of the Ecole software. Direct, present in 2,000 private schools. “But I admit, I’m glad I was able to escape it.”

*Pierre Merle published “School assessment practices: History, difficulties, perspectives”, on the PUF (2018)

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