The school was built on this idea of a kind of protected space where young people could gradually enter the world. The shock of the generalization of digital assets deeply challenges this idea. The advent of computers in schools in the early 1980s had suggested a profound transformation of the system. Forty years later, we see that this transformation has not taken place, or has not been observable. At the same time, information technology has been socialized and has invaded all our living spaces and our society. How come such a gap has widened and ministry to ministry’s plans have succeeded without the system being transformed? If the hypothesis of the futility of introducing IT and digital technology into schools is to be rejected, given the repetition of plans and events associated with IT and digital technology in education, we should not neglect the “distance” that the school world persists with life in society. However, a more in-depth analysis of the functioning of the school, from top to bottom and through the content it wishes to pass on, shows that the school is indeed at the service of a society that, in return, gives it its prescriptions for more or less explicit , for example with “education for” and “new curricula”.
With digital a different relationship to time
Einstein’s theory revolutionized the conception of space-time, it is said about the special theory of relativity. We can try to draw a parallel with the digital technology that has changed the “perception of space and time” for each of us. Since the world is now within “screenshot”, it is easy to understand the transformation this brings about if we compare it with the way in which children constructed their representation of the world at the beginning of the 20th century (cf. Le tour de France by two children, school textbook by Augustine Fouille-Tuillerie, published under the pseudonym G. Bruno in 1877). Researchers such as Hartmut Rosa or Dominique Boullier have put forward the phenomenon of acceleration associated with these developments. They have also, like Yves Citton, addressed the issue of attracting attention through new digital means (eg constant requests through automatic alerts). They also emphasized an illusion of dominance that can be produced by accessing this information once it has been compiled and disseminated. Here, among other things, are the transformations of a world that seems to be becoming elastic. Plus, we’re increasingly using it in ways that are (mistakenly) called natural. But our children who are born in this environment are subject to these changes in perception.
The recent health crisis has introduced a new way for the school to “disengage”. How do we view the world when we are at school? Is it still the same world when we leave school? The famous “continuity”, which has often served as a banner for decision-makers, is not new, but has been hidden, even banned. Indeed, the school was built on this idea of a kind of protected space that would gradually allow young people to enter the world. The shock of the generalization of digital assets deeply challenges this idea. However, if school could feel protected and protective until the late 20th century, it was already identified as more and more out of step with society, especially for certain populations for whom school and even knowledge didn’t make more sense. If television was denounced as an instrument of this deconstruction of meaning between 1960 and 2000, digital is associated with the same words. For the school, the central question is first of all an analysis of the attitude and then the formulation of an educational vision including this highly evolved context.
When changing attitudes, first of all, time is taken into account. It seems necessary to give time so that teachers and students do not feel limited by the prescribed time of the programs. Many teachers testify to this need for time when using digital technology. Not for technical reasons (though still too present), but mainly for learning reasons: when the studied world is reduced to the page of the textbook, teaching proceeds much faster than when the teacher wants his students to perceive the world through the multitude of available media on the one hand and that they want to promote in-depth studies on the living issues of our contemporary world on the other (climate, violence, nutrition, health, etc.). In addition, the now greater porosity between school time and personal working time of students (and also of teachers) must be taken into account. Learning takes time, consolidating acquisitions takes time. Can the school space become a space that is more open to controversy, to consultation, to co-construction?
Rethinking the school from the outside
The educational vision to be built seems to have to focus on the perceived turnaround: the “outside” of the school has taken the lead on the “inside”. The inside maintains its dominance through programs, exams, orientation, leading to consumer behavior in families and young people. Starting from the outside to rethink the school, in 2022, is also to return to the debate of 1791 that established the school precisely from “the outside”. To do this, whether we like it or not, the exterior has now been largely changed by digital technology, both in work and in everyday life. These changes, which digital social networks are increasingly witnessing, should therefore serve as a pillar to build an educational vision for the future that includes this digital. This vision can only be built over time. The idea of a too rapid renewal of computer and digital technologies is too often used for immobility: we don’t know where it’s going and also too soon. A rereading of the last fifty years makes it possible to read the evolutions and their effects in society and their place in the school. We are surprised to see that we forget continuities too quickly to favor fractions (the fashion for disruption?). And the few breaks are more the result of a few symbolic gestures by politicians than of real fundamental transformations that touch the heart of the school system, the school form, the B2i and the abandonment are a good example.
Reintroducing time into the school presupposes the provision of modular programs shared between the essential (the basics) and the extension (deep, specialisms). From kindergarten to high school, it will be necessary to leave it up to the teachers to guarantee the basics (including digital technology of course) and to encourage expansion according to the local context. The digital resources will then have to be instrumentalized in the service of the flexibility of the time to learn them. Of course, the committees that make the programs will have to be clear about the place digital technology should have in their proposals: defending subject areas or defending the quality of learning and the education project for students? This is based on a political force that is aware of these issues and implements them within all structures that depend on them by giving them a real roadmap, based on meaning. Time is also a way of life, a way of being. However, the digital as we perceive it in our societies is one of the key players in accelerating and recording human time. Let’s be aware of this to ensure a better future for the young in our societies.