DIGITAL SCHOOL: COVID-19 CHANGES (ALMOST) NOTHING

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« We should also accelerate the trend toward distance learning, which is being tested today like never before. »(1)

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, in the Wall StreetJournal

Since the beginning of this « crisis », I have heard many people around me say that  » things were finally going to change  » and that  » the coronavirus reshuffled all the cards « , meaning that everyone, from one side of the political spectrum to the other, had to suspend their judgement and their attempts at explanations, to be modest, to refrain from  » I told you so! « and defer to the advice of experts, as if the damn virus also had the power to invalidate political thinking. In Le Soir (April 28, 2020), Jean-François Kahn sent everyone back to back, raining down on the heads of ecologists, degrowthists, liberals, socialists, Marxists and sovereignists clouds of bad points dropped from his critical helicopter. It is now a matter of recognizing that everyone is wrong, he asserted like a postmodern Socrates. No, Mr. Kahn, it is the opposite. With one or two exceptions, each of them holds a piece of truth in their analysis. And the coronavirus doesn’t change much of what should (should) have been done a long time ago to try to reach an already less indecent society.

SCREENS, AGAIN AND AGAIN

This is the case for the fight against screen addiction. This had disastrous consequences before the epidemic appeared (especially among young people), it had them during and will have them after(2). What is changing is that the digital school and the digital work environment (DWE) are being given a new legitimacy in the media, in the political world, among voters/consumers and, it seems, among a significant part of teachers (alas!). The live courses (live) on digital platforms, apparently appreciated by students:  » I had class today [ed. note: May 25]. at school with the second years, and the situation is so unpleasant that I am afraid that some students prefer to stay at home and follow the live classes via Internet(3) « explains Sarah(4)a young teacher in general secondary education in Brussels.  » Technology has helped us in this situation, indeed. However, I hope it doesn’t become a requirement in the future. I hope to return to classical education in September, although I believe that some practices will definitely change despite us « she adds. In the press, journalists are already calling for the  » reduction of the digital divide  » and the  » reinvention of the school  » through a  » high-performance digital environment « , in particular to increase the effectiveness of inverted classes(5). Citizens’ associations, as perfect useful idiots of the « silicolonization of the world »(6), are struggling to provide a used computer to disadvantaged students who are deprived of it.  » In this matter, there is more than a challenge, there is an obligation to succeed ‚ » commands Eric Burgraff in the editorial of Le Soir (May 19, 2020). What would have become of the poor confined students without this wonderful tool, the Internet? Dumped in the great capitalist race for innovation, now potentially unemployable, unable to form the reserve army that will revive Belgium’s faltering economy after the pandemic… Fortunately, online courses were there! During the lockdown, some zealous teachers — who we assume are endorsed by their management — did not hesitate to use and abuse it, riveting their students to the screens for the good cause, not caring at all about the repercussions of their pedagogical demands within the families, starting with the under-equipment of some households with computers(7)But also the complicated organization between meals, leisure activities, little outings to stretch the legs, shopping, telecommuting… and online school. As if the atmosphere was not anxiety-provoking enough, they have added a layer(8)! As for the educational benefits, they are far from being proven(9). Digital education does not promote autonomy. Its advocates often confuse learning withdrilling or motivation for the tool… when it exists. Because students do not spontaneously ask for technological gadgets, initially it is the leaders of the educational communities who impose them on them. And since the time is to be concerned above all about health, let’s remember that screen abuse leads to sleep disturbances, attention deficit, myopia, musculoskeletal disorders, overweight and cyberaddiction in young people… all things to be added to the viral risk!

SCHOOL AND NEW DIGITAL BIOPOWER

Covid-19 does not fundamentally change the heavy burden of digitizing education, which has been a reality for teachers and learners for some time(10). But today, for the technocratic liberal opportunists, it’s Kairos ! Minister Pierre-Yves Jeholet, in line with his very technocratic MR party, proclaims that the digital school must be developed  » with an ambitious and pragmatic vision « (Le Soir, May 25, 2020). On the civil society side, the association Educit is at the forefront (see the laudatory storytelling devoted to it by Jean-François Munster in the same issue of Le Soir). On the other side of the Atlantic, this « shock strategy »(cf. Naomi Klein) is being implemented in New York in the form of a « Screen New Deal », for the greatest interests of GAFAM. If fortunately a fraction of the parents see the trap in which they and their offspring have fallen(11), the other, at the height of alienation, applauds the (ir)responsible teachers and asks for more. Will it change the face of the (contaminated) world if children don’t get their CEB or CE1D this year? Will it disrupt or even prevent anything in their long-term cognitive development? Unless the objective is to keep the pressure on them, unduly beneficiaries of an additional unwelcome « leave ». On the other hand, two things become stronger. First of all, the inequalities in education, which were already glaring before the epidemic: lack of or obsolete computer equipment in disadvantaged households versus private lessons in wealthy families ; then, the possibilities of monitoring teachers, since their lessons and exercises are now online and can be consulted by everyone, including the advice of litigious parents who will detect all the formal defects and departures from the letter of the programs, and thus will manage more easily to get rid of some non-compliant teachers, for example those who refuse the injunction to digitalize and thus risk a professional pillorying for reasons of disobedience, inability to adapt, irresponsibility, too much originality or discordant political voice within the establishment. « Viral » for years, the anti-prof propaganda could end if teachers quickly and massively convert to digital. This will not prevent the neoliberal government from pursuing its unavowed objective of eventually downsizing their staff and renaming the lucky (?) survivors as  » e‑learning resource persons » . Goodbye to the status of teacher! However, let’s remember that without teachers nothing would have happened: no courses, no usefulness for the functions of inspectors, directors and prefects, for the organizing authorities, parents’ associations, the administration and even the ministry. We, teachers, are the alpha and omega of the School, it would be enough for us to (re)become aware of this(12) for things to really start to change in a saving direction. Not that of being the gravedigger of one’s own profession by obeying the summons to digitize or even by accepting it willingly. Voluntary or not, no more servitude!

Bernard Legros

Notes et références
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2020/may/13/naomi-klein-how-big-tech-plans-to-profit-from-coronavirus-pandemic.
  2. Cf. Michel Desmurget, La fabrique du crétin digital. Les dangers des écrans pour nos enfants, Seuil, 2019 et Manfred Spitzer, Les ravages des écrans. Les pathologies à l’ère numérique, L’Échappée, 2019.
  3. Conversation privée.
  4. Prénom d’emprunt.
  5. Où les élèves découvrent la matière en amont à la maison, plutôt que de la retravailler en aval sous forme de devoirs.
  6. Cf. Éric Sadin, La silicolonisation du monde. L’irrésistible expansion du libéralisme numérique, L’Echappée, 2016.
  7. Comment « faire » ses devoirs sur un smartphone ?
  8. Rendons grâce toutefois à la clairvoyance de la ministre de l’Éducation en Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles Caroline Désir (PS) qui a interdit d’aborder de nouvelles matières par l’ENT. Seuls étaient acceptés les exercices et révisions. En France, Jean-Michel Blanquer a fait l’inverse.
  9. Cf. Benoit Galand in Les cahiers du Girsef, « Le numérique va-t-il révolutionner l’éducation ? », n° 120, mars 2020.
  10. Je renvoie ici à mon article paru in Cédric Biagini, Christophe Cailleaux & François Jarrige (dir.), Critiques de l’école numérique, L’Échappée, 2019, pp. 261–272.
  11. Témoignages de parents glanés sur les réseaux (a)sociaux : « J’ai déjà imprimé 241 feuilles d’exercices pour Zoé » ; « C’est du délire. Malgré mon aide, il y passe quand même toutes ses journées. Ce n’est pas tenable ! » ; « Brahim est en 3éme primaire et il doit bosser quatre heures par jour. Ça  crée beaucoup de stress et de tensions » ; « Quand j’ai vu le premier mail de l’institutrice avec la liste de travail demandé, j’ai d’abord cru que c’était une blague. Mon fils est en première primaire, pas en dernière année à l’unif’ ! ». Etc.
  12. Sur ce plan-là comme d’autres, il y a eu régression. Jusqu’à l’aube de ce siècle, les enseignants étaient réactifs, combatifs, syndiqués pour la plupart, et de la spécificité de leur métier, qu’ils sidéraient comme un art plutôt qu’une technique.
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