Bruno Devauchelle: Inequalities and digital technology at school

While all decision-makers and other politicians claim to fight against inequalities, mainly social ones, why does this not produce the expected effects? As we know, the gaps between words and reality begin first in the analysis, then continue in the stated intentions, and, it seems, do not manage to reduce them. One of the ways to do this is to segment the inequalities to try to solve them on a sufficiently small scale to hope to be effective. Another way of doing things is to hold general speeches on this or that aspect of inequality, but without ever really going into concrete action. The example of the school is particularly worrying in this respect.

Digital technology and the degradation of the place of the School in society

The creation of digital networks of all kinds as early as the 1970s was the bearer of an egalitarian utopia. This idea is based on the perception of compartmentalizations which are so many means of segregation that it would be a question of eliminating in a kind of Babelian space (utopia was present then, but fought by God himself). Would the Internet then be this pretentious tower of which the HTML language and the TCP IP protocol would be the foundations. The observation of human society at this time on earth could recall what this text announces: the bursting into a multiplicity of languages ​​that no longer understand each other, which can be translated by the emergence of competing computer solutions and incompatible on a planetary scale, such as Digital Social Networking software. If we judge by the different interpretations of this biblical text (Genesis 11.1-9), it seems that the “punishment” made to men is based on differences and therefore questions inequalities. Human beings would thus be called upon to seek the disappearance of inequalities, but not of differences. Perhaps we can see in certain transhumanist theses a resurgence of this utopia of Babel, but in another form, the eternal human… This way of thinking about the world seems to spread in very different cultures a priori. Technical progress, driven by IT and more broadly by digital technology, continues to bring out these visions, while, at the same time, alerts on the problems linked to this technical progress are multiplying.

Yes, IT and digital reinforce the inequalities that existed before. Sometimes they even amplify them… or extend them. We can question the attitude of the school world for more than fifty years. By constantly hesitating on the purposes of IT and digital technology at school, education policy specialists have gradually disqualified the place of schools and their actors within society. We can venture this hypothesis: the lack of interest in the teaching profession as well as the devaluation of the social representation of this profession can be put in parallel with the development of digital technology in society. The central theme of this hypothesis is based on the question of massification. From the beginning of the 2000s, it was a slow descent into hell: by refusing the implementation of B2i then C2i (and C2i2e in 2013) while it was in the law, the public authorities did not seen this degradation of the place of the school coming in the face of the development of digital technology in society and in particular its massification since around 2010.

And yet, it is in the places of education which are aimed at the least recognized pupils in the school world (special education, vocational, agricultural, etc.) that the initiatives have been the most numerous and the most promising. hope. But still without succeeding in ensuring that the education system does not succeed in reducing inequalities. And for good reason, these teaching sections are already in a situation of marginalization. Why does the establishment of Digital Sciences and Technologies only affect general and technological high schools and not the other sectors? Why also, is philosophy set aside outside of these general and technological streams? To put it another way, the school did not really want to resolve these structural inequalities and the digital, yet the bearer of this utopia, did not cross the door of schools as an element to be taken into account to fight against disparities. of all kinds, to take into account the differences.

The digital vector of inequalities

What to do then? School policies have always been based on the pillars: equipment, training, resources. With the arrival of the Web, infrastructure and especially the question of accessible content have been added, which by their scale (quantity of information) and their fluidity (publications, interactions and comments) have imposed an “Education for”, reinforced EMI since the beginning of 2022. Public initiatives have followed one another over the years, giving the impression of indecision or rather of decisional vagueness. And yet technology has also guided the choices. If in 1985 it was necessary to have computer rooms with heavy equipment, in 2020 individual mobility (Individual Mobile Equipment) seems to be essential. Precursors such as the department of Landes under the impetus of its president Emmanuelli or the truant networks of Vercors have shown that there are possibilities. Pascal Marquet and Jérôme Dinet give a precious report (a historical and scientific review) in their article “The first uses of a digital binder by members of the school community: an example in high school. All of them, in their proposals dating from the end of the 20th century, focus the development of digital education around individual mobile equipment and accessible and usable digital networks.

In 2022, the initiatives are continuing, but changes seem to be taking place. The famous Hollande project of 2015 (equipping all middle school students with an EIM) was reactivated during the crisis, but especially in high school, accompanying what had already been started before (in Île-de-France or in Greater East). At the same time, government initiatives (Digital Base for equipment, for example) or the project School building (in particular pages 191 – 196 on digital) or even Educational Digital Territories (TNE) express this timidity of national policies in relation to local policies… Digital education must first be a matter of effective practice by pupils and not of a privileged way for the practice of teachers. But for this to develop, there is still a long way to go. Even if the intentions are interesting, they are still timid.

Let us recall here this definition (see the previously cited article by P Marquet and J Dinet): the University of Savoie has filed this definition for “Electronic school bag” with the National Institute of Intellectual Property (INPI): “a set educational services and content placed on a platform accessible regardless of the type of computer terminal, fixed or nomadic, from college, home or a public access point. […] This virtual office is intended for students, their teachers and their parents. “. This approach, which now dates back more than twenty years, deserves new attention from political decision-makers. Because behind it is a global vision based on an observation, digital as a total social fact, and therefore a vision for a school that allows everyone to understand and appropriate the changes in progress without risking being subjected to forces of pressure outside the school world and specific to the economic and financial world. And without trying to systematically make our young people future IT arms for the industry. Because for young people, the question is elsewhere: how to inhabit this world? How to know how it works? How to participate knowingly? And above all, how not to suffer the steamroller of an unequal system which, after relying on books and writing, now relies on digital and multimedia/multimodal.

Bruno Devauchelle

Bruno Devauchelle: Inequalities and digital technology at school – The Educational Café