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internet enters education nationale

The French public administration used to be distrustful of the Internet -- that Trojan horse of American culture. The wind is definitely changing as the powerful National Education (France's principal national budget item at $60 billion a year) has begun to promote the Internet in public schools.

stéphane lohier Stéphane Lohier is a "professeur agrégé" (i.e., one who has passed the highest competitive exam for teachers in the French system) in electrical and computer engineering. It doesn't pay well (though the job does leave him more than the usual amount of free time), but it corresponds to a certain ideal of Stéphane's, that of directly serving the community. Lohier is a civil servant by true choice -- by calling, if you will.

Four days in class, one day on the Information Superhighway construction site

For five years, he has taught the eleventh and twelfth grades plus prep classes at Lycée Technique Dorian, in Paris. For over two years, he's also been working for Education Nationale's Académie de Paris (offices of the Paris region), spending one day a week collaborating with his full-time colleague Jean-Luc Simonet on an "Information Superhighway" project that's part of the "Technologies Nouvelles" program of Education Nationale (EN). There, in a modern building located in the quiet, nearly pastoral Académie de Paris's logo Twentieth Arrondissement, Stéphane and Jean-Luc work on several computers connected by ISDN links to the central EN computing/network center of Jussieu, with the assigned goal of explaining to all the regional high schools why they should get linked to the Internet, and then to help them to do so.

An official unofficial Internet specialist in each school

Their mission, initiated in 1994, was primarily to set up the technical installation (Serveur Web de l'Académie de Paris) and to assist the high schools in getting connected. Lohier and Simonet supply each school with a modem, properly configured software, and a few hours of training. At the beginning of 1995, 30 schools out of the 285 in the administrative region had gotten wired; as of this writing, 60 are involved.

The teaching community is not particularly at the forefront of net surfing, but there is almost always one teacher in each location who feels pretty passionate about the whole thing and who, in exchange for one or two extra hours a week on his or her paycheck, will act as his or her school's official unofficial Internet person, just as Stéphane has done in Lycée Dorian. Each lycée (high school) and collège (junior high) is supposed to be equipped with a computer/LAN (Local Area Network) room; right now, roughly half of them actually are thus equipped. That's more encouraging than not.

To look good or to teach better?

Some schools and teachers catch on so well to a web project that they jump into a loop refining their site like real programmers, forgetting the true mission assigned by Education Nationale -- that of being an educational support tool. Opening electronic mailboxes for individual pupils or for a whole class is a great motivation to get them practicing English, or German, or any other foreign language they've chosen to study. Introducing them to the web and its search engines opens up a whole new horizon of project research capacities. Different schools interpret the mandate in different ways. One Paris school, Lycée Technique Emile Dubois, has constructed a very clear map of the area. Already available in five languages, the map includes a navigation panel, a "how to get there" section, and numerous elegant gizmos. But the student pages are still "under construction." In strong contrast is Collège Beaumarchais's effort. The site certainly wouldn't claim to be at the technical or aesthetic forefront of webness, but the pages were all created by the school's sixth-graders as class projects.

Educational intranets of tomorrow...

As teachers acquire Net knowledge and skills, they also start to show a keen interest in intranets. Some have started using tools such as WebWhacker to organize educational sequences of web pages for off-line use on the school's LAN. As Stéphane puts it, "Ca y est, Internet is in the schools, and the teachers are now reflecting on how to best put it to educational use. It's already a major step forward."

Hopefully -- and probably -- numerous Stéphane Lohiers will help to take the following steps throughout France in the next two or three years, so as to make of the Internet a useful, public, open-to-all educational resource.


shermozle said:

Minitel really is an amazing device. The French government's foresight and laissez-faire attitudes to censorship should set an example for other world governments contemplating new technologies. Because Minitel is ubiquitous, it's still immensely useful. You can book trains, see what's on at the movies, chat--just about everything that you'll be able to do on the Web someday soon. But it's all there now in all it's coloured ASCII glory! Until everything is online and everyone has a terminal, we won't see the amount of usefulness you get from Minitel on the Web.

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Modern and traditional often coexist in Paris' 20th arrondissement

"One school even engaged an external service provider to design and set up its web site! This is not exactly what we intended to encourage."

jean-luc simonet

With Educational Coordinator Stéphane Lohier, Technical Coordinator Jean-Luc Simonet (pictured here) is setting up "Information Superhighways" in the Paris education region

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