Education “bricoleurs”

The multiplicity of tools and solutions offered today by educators and edtech entrepreneurs from around the world supports the vision of education in the hands of passionate “bricoleurs”.

The mother of all battles

Innovation in education has many faces – the faces of teachers and their students in Tallinn, Nairobi or Brooklyn; of researchers in a science education lab in Belo Horizonte or London; of refugees in a camp in Sudan… For each of these people, education is the answer to a question posed in a different way but with the same promise: that of a better, fairer and more sustainable world for all. The ideal, and idealised, vision of education spans the ages from Socrates or St Augustine to the digital age of generative Artificial Intelligence.

The images of hundreds of millions of children on their way to school and tens of millions of teachers who have made a commitment to train them, however, are still superimposed on those of closed schools and children deprived of education in towns and villages transformed into new battlefields all over the world. Despite all our efforts, education remains an uncertain response to vital questions.

Education is the mother of all battles, said the French prime minister – a former short-lived minister of education – at the time of his appointment. The language of war is required when it comes to mobilising parents, teachers, students, public authorities, unions, businesses. But for what purpose?

The countries of the world, in the same breath, have made access to quality education one of the objectives of our sustainable development, just like the protection of the planet or health and well-being for all. Are we close to the goal? Education is first a matter of measurement. What impact does education have on the lives of those who receive it? Does it really allow for better jobs, better salaries, more responsible behaviour, for a fairer life and a more cohesive society

Getting to school alive

Everyone has their own concerns, and they are all different. For students at MIT or Imperial College, education is the royal road to innovation in health. From the laboratories of these prestigious universities, for example, will come new drugs against cancer, as they did for the COVID-19 pandemic. But university education remains the privilege of a minority, while compulsory primary and secondary education face challenges of incredible diversity.

Getting to school alive is the goal of tens of thousands of children in Africa who cross roads without signs. Finding a free desk in the morning or afternoon shift in an overcrowded classroom of a hundred or more students is the daily life of tens of thousands of others. At the same time in Europe, it is priority to have a student–teacher ratio of less than 10 to fight against school dropouts in the most vulnerable neighbourhoods on the outskirts of large cities. In dozens of countries, 130 million young girls do not have the right to an education, and the integrity of millions more is threatened. Absenteeism is a recurring scourge in low- and high-income countries. For some children, it is a health problem, because intestinal parasites or the lack of distribution of school meals prevent millions of young people from going to school on a regular basis. For others, often thousands of kilometres away, it is unhappiness, anxiety about their grades, loss of family and social reference points, and dropping out of school.

The education divide

Since education is about measurement, we must rely on data collected around the world to assess the performance of education systems: PISA studies for OECD countries; data collected by the United Nations and the World Bank for low-income countries.

In the “richest” countries of the OECD, the divide between a “West” often in the process of an education regression and an “East” asserting its leadership in 21st century skills is accentuated. In short, the skills of students from Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Macau or Japan – but also from Shanghai and other Chinese provinces measured by PISA – would be far superior to those of their American or European counterparts in mathematics, reading and science. (The importance of effort in academic achievement also comes with a price for young people.) This gap has only been widening over the past 10 years, even if this divergence cannot yet be seen in higher education, which is still dominated by Anglo-Saxon universities.

Low-income countries continue to face endemic difficulties in accessing quality education: only one country in six seems capable of achieving the target of universal completion of the secondary cycle by 2030, and it is estimated that more than 80 million children and young people will still be out of school by that date and that around 300 million students will not have the basic numeracy, reading and writing skills needed to succeed in life.

There is indeed a two-speed education (at least two!) between countries of course – and the amount invested in education does not necessarily explain the differences – but also within countries where education systems often reproduce inequalities. In France, private schools, which are a minority, train elite students, who will attain academic and later professional success at the cost of an almost complete exclusion of disadvantaged social classes. In Brazil, state universities, on the other hand, are home to the Brazilian elite while private universities are left answering the needs of millions of disadvantaged young Brazilians. Many education systems find their own modus operandi to, ultimately, reproduce social inequalities.



A gigantic network of pipes

We must therefore innovate to be able to educate and to be better, longer, anywhere, anytime. Education is first and foremost a public good, and states have taken the commitment to ensuring broad and equal access to knowledge « for all ». Most states have faced huge difficulties in fulfilling this mission. Innovation and adaptation seem contradictory to the very functioning of education systems. Significant resources are allocated in a gigantic network of pipes emerging from multiple mazes in the classroom. Managing such an infrastructure has proven to be increasingly complex; management tasks and evaluation needs have gradually encroached on education time and imposed an administrative burden deemed necessary to account for the impact of the enormous investment made on behalf of taxpayers. The teaching profession has gradually been devalued in many countries, with training, salaries and status that no longer make it possible to recruit the best individuals for the fundamental task of educating.

However, new educational models are emerging in certain countries in Europe and Asia that favour the autonomy of schools and teachers – and therefore less pressure from the central administration – educational solutions for the needs of each student, more social diversity, enhanced recognition of teachers through salary and status, and smart use of digital technologies.

Do we need more technology in education?

What about technology often presented as a primary driving force behind education reform? How can digital technologies contribute to solving the structural problems of education systems in countries which are experiencing a progressive deterioration of learning and teaching conditions – and help all those who suffer from inaccessibility to educational resources and tutoring?

PISA shows a positive relationship between the intentional integration of technology into school education and student performance, even if dependent on the time spent on these digital solutions. PISA tests show that digital resources and one-hour support in mathematics have a positive influence on performance. At the same time, prolonged use of these devices for leisure – for more than two hours at a time – has a negative influence on student performance, and the addictive nature of mobile phone use is a cause of distraction and increases anxiety.

Do we need more technology in school education? The whole point of edtech is to offer new digital solutions that meet a wide spectrum of educational needs and make it possible to improve educational resources, facilitate school management, better assess skills and, ultimately, promote lifelong learning. Edtech entrepreneurs constitute a community of teachers, parents, programmers, etc. driven by innovation and with diverse interests in education.

Let’s look at compulsory education – K12 in the USA. Edtech entrepreneurs often summarise the need for innovation in education via one image: a child asleep at their desk or yawning while waiting for the lesson to end. If education is therefore boring or unenjoyable, it would explain students’ disinterest, them dropping out of school, and the mismatch between the skills they acquire and those demanded by the job market. This image is not new. Photographer Robert Doisneau took one of his most famous photos in the 1950s, of boys at their desks, with one boy yawning.

Innovation in education would therefore consist of making education “stimulating”, “entertaining”, “participatory”, “personalised”. Teachers would have more time for direct interaction with their students, for creating easy but engaging educational resources and for real-time personalised assessment data that better meets the needs of their students. They would be able to communicate easily with families and students outside of school hours, and in one click respond to the administrative requirements of the school management. Digital technology would be able to revolutionise education and fulfil the dual promise of social impact and economic impact.

Innovators from the past

This plea for innovation in education was not born with digital technology. Montessori schools, Waldorf schools, democratic schools…  have all been at different times the proponents of an education “revolution”, where education had to be considered an “inclusive fabric” based on new learning practices. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed, developed in the 1960s, sought to bring together “educator-learners” and “learner-educators”, who would dialogue together to develop new critical knowledge.

Technology has always been integrated into the thinking of education innovators. Célestin Freinet introduced printers into his schools in the 1920s. Maria Montessori built her pedagogy around scientific thinking. Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire encouraged educators to appropriate new communication technologies, including educational television. Seymour Papert even predicted a student revolt if they continued passively consuming pre-digested knowledge.

What have we done with their heritage?

One of the most common trends has been to dismiss these pedagogies as “alternative” or marginal. The resistance of education systems to change has long prevented the transformations dreamed of today by edtech entrepreneurs. Ironically, the founders of the digital giants in Silicon Valley send their children to Montessori or Waldorf schools, where mobile phones are banned…

Are edtech entrepreneurs more qualified or more visionary than their illustrious predecessors? The difficulties they face in imposing their solutions in schools and colleges reveal the persistence of administrative burden and resistance to change but also sometimes their own lack of vision. Of course, large digital companies (GAFA) have massively penetrated the education systems which have equipped themselves with digital solutions. Start-ups have succeeded in imposing innovative products, and at the same time investors have committed to supporting them. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the merits of distance learning systems in this extreme health crisis, although videoconferencing is not an educational tool by nature.

The investment necessary for edtech entrepreneurs needs tangible results to be sustained over time, and it always takes a long time to obtain results in education. The small revenues generated by most digital solutions are today out of proportion with the financial valuation desired by the shareholders of these companies. The marriage between public good and private interest proves difficult as compulsory education remains a “public good”. Funding is decreasing, and start-ups are learning to deal with the long term. Many of them then turn to companies to continue their development: workforce management and training or employee well-being become priorities for edtech start-ups.

Artificial Intelligence: pivot of change?

Is technology really the pivot of the hoped-for change? David Edgerton, historian of science and technology and professor at King’s College London, tells us about technology that we are too ready to believe – that we know everything about it and its effects but, really, we know remarkably little. He says it is extremely difficult to answer to what extent invention has played an important role in the transformation of our world. We do not have an inventory of inventions. We also do not have an inventory of the importance of these inventions.

This debate on the role of technology in innovation in education has rebounded in recent months with the emergence of ChatGPT. Generative Artificial Intelligence – which is not associated with a particular educational theory – seems, according to its creators (who remain unnamed, unlike the educators of the past), to expand the capabilities of education systems and make it possible to generate better educational resources at lower cost; better evaluate students’ achievements and measure their needs in real time; and free up teachers’ time by providing them with the data that will allow them to take care of students with the greatest needs, while knowing they can count on chatbots serving as tutors for more routine tasks. Of course, Artificial Intelligence opens the door to large-scale plagiarism and a biased use of sources, but these flaws will, say the “experts”, gradually be erased by more accurate developments, as will the problems of data security and intellectual property sources be resolved over time.

The dominant position of OpenAI on the Artificial Intelligence market, the cost of the service, the illusion of freedom of access, the computational costs, the energy costs of these computing powers, and the toll organised around one or two unique sellers are some of the issues that question the compatibility between large-scale use of AI in school and the search for public good. The hidden costs of generative Artificial Intelligence are starting to be better documented. They resemble the exponential server costs for streaming platforms once AWS or Google or Azure have ensured you will be using their services exclusively.

The choice made by companies such as French startup EvidenceB to favour research and the long term with a proprietary solution shows there is a path beyond GAFA to provide truly innovative responses backed by a detailed understanding of the needs of learners and teachers.

Edtech tinkerers: the new education “bricoleurs”

This is the whole point of edtech incubators like MindCET today or the Open Education Challenge a few years ago – to allow edtech entrepreneurs to take stock of the problems that arise for education professionals so they can validate their solutions and at the same time educate their investors on the specificities of return on investment in education. The latter learn quickly, and some become enthusiasts and experts in education.

The finalists of the Global EdTech Startup Awards (GESA), whose 2024 final has just been held in London, demonstrates the diversity, talent and passion of edtech entrepreneurs.

Among these finalists, Eneza Education, a Kenya-based social enterprise, offers digital educational programmes running on basic phones at a price of $0.10 per week. More and more social enterprises are fighting on this front of accessibility, such as Kajou, which was created by the NGO Libraries Without Borders. At the other end of the spectrum, NOLEJ and Storywizard offer teachers the opportunity to create their own educational resources using generative Artificial Intelligence.

Edtech entrepreneurs are education tinkerers, always busy devising or repairing learning activities and making their mark, their distinctive style. Bricoleur is a French word described by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss in ‘The Savage Mind’ as “someone who works with his hands, using devious means. His universe of instruments is closed, and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’”.

The multiplicity of tools and solutions offered today by these entrepreneurs from around the world supports the vision of education in the hands of passionate “bricoleurs”.

Les bricoleurs de l’éducation


L’innovation en éducation a de multiples visages: ceux d’élèves et d’enseignants dans une salle de classes de Tallin, de Nairobi ou de Bobigny, ceux de pédagogues dans un laboratoire de recherche à Belo Horizonte ou à Londres, ceux de réfugiés dans un camp au Soudan … Pour tous, l’éducation est la réponse à une question posée de façon différente mais avec la même promesse : celle d’un monde meilleur, plus juste et plus durable, pour tous. La vision idéale et idéalisée de l’éducation traverse les âges depuis Socrates ou Saint Augustin jusqu’à l’ère du numérique et de l’intelligence artificielle générative.


La mère de toutes les batailles

Aux images de centaines de millions d’enfants sur le chemin de l’école et de dizaines de millions d’enseignants ayant pris l’engagement de les former, se superposent pourtant toujours celles d’écoles fermées et d’enfants privés d’éducation dans des villes et villages transformés en nouveaux champs de bataille partout dans le monde. L’éducation reste malgré tous nos efforts une réponse aléatoire à des questions vitales.

L’éducation est la mère de toutes les batailles disait au moment de sa nomination le Premier ministre français qui fut un éphémère ministre de l’Éducation. Le vocabulaire guerrier est de mise quand il s’agit de mobiliser parents, enseignants, élèves, pouvoirs publics, entreprises. Mais dans quel but?

Les pays du monde, dans un même élan, ont fait de l’accès à une éducation de qualité un des objectifs de notre développement durable au même titre que la protection de la planète ou la santé et le bien-être pour tous. Est-on proche du but ? L’éducation est aussi et d’abord une affaire de mesure. Quel impact a l’éducation sur la vie de ceux qui la reçoivent ? Permet-elle réellement de meilleurs emplois, de meilleurs salaires, des comportements plus responsables pour une vie plus juste et plus solidaire ?

À chacun ses préoccupations. Pour les élèves du MIT ou d’Imperial College, l’éducation est la voie royale pour l’innovation en santé par exemple ; des laboratoires de ces universités prestigieuses sortiront les nouveaux médicaments contre le cancer comme sont sortis ceux qui ont permis de faire face à la pandémie de COVID. Mais l’éducation universitaire reste le privilège d’une minorité alors que l’enseignement obligatoire primaire et secondaire fait face à des défis d’une incroyable diversité.

Arriver à l’école vivant est l’objectif de dizaines de milliers d’enfants en Afrique qui traversent des routes sans aucune signalisation au péril de leurs vies. Trouver un pupitre libre  le matin ou l’après-midi dans des salles de classe de 100 élèves ou plus est le quotidien de dizaines de milliers d’autres. Dans le même temps en Europe le ratio élèves-enseignants inférieur à 10 est érigé en priorité pour lutter contre le décrochage scolaire dans les quartiers les plus vulnérables au périphérie des grandes villes. Dans des dizaines de pays, 130 millions de jeunes filles n’ont pas droit à une éducation et l’intégrité de millions d’autres est menacée au quotidien. L’absentéisme est un fléau récurrent dans les pays à faible et haut revenu. Pour les uns c’est souvent un problème de santé quand les parasites intestinaux ou l’absence de distribution de repas scolaires empêchent des millions de jeunes d’aller à l’école de manière régulière. Pour les autres, souvent à des milliers de kilomètres, dans les pays les plus riches, le mal-être des enfants, l’angoisse des notes, la perte de repères familiaux et sociaux provoquent absentéisme et le décrochage scolaire.


Une histoire d’impact

Comme l’éducation est une affaire de mesure, nous devons nous appuyer sur des données collectées dans le monde entier pour évaluer les performances des systèmes éducatifs. Les études PISA d’un côté pour les pays de l’OCDE, les données réunies par les Nations Unies et la Banque mondiale d’autre part pour les pays à faible revenu.

Dans les pays les plus « riches » de l’OCDE, la fracture entre un « Ouest » souvent en voie de régression éducative et un « Est » affirmant son leadership dans les compétences du XXIème siècle s’accentue. Pour faire court, les compétences des élèves de Taiwan, Singapour, Corée du Sud, Macao ou du Japon mais aussi de Shanghaï et d’autres provinces chinoises mesurées par PISA seraient très largement supérieures à celles de leurs homologues américains ou européens en mathématique, en lecture et en science. (Ces résultats sont souvent liés à des valeurs d’effort et dépassement de soi et une pression sociale qui s’exercent au détriment de la santé mentale des enfants.) Cet écart ne ferait que se creuser depuis 10 ans. Cette divergence ne se lit pas encore dans l’enseignement supérieur dominé toujours par les universités anglo saxonnes

Les pays à faible revenu restent eux confrontés à des difficultés endémiques d’accès à une éducation de qualité : seul un pays sur six semble en capacité d’atteindre la cible d’achèvement universel du cycle secondaire d’ici à 2030, et on estime que plus de 80 millions d’enfants et de jeunes ne seront toujours pas scolarisés à cette date et qu’environ 300 millions d’élèves n’auront pas les compétences de base en calcul, lecture et écriture nécessaires pour réussir dans la vie.

Il y a bien une éducation à deux vitesses (au moins), entre les pays bien sûr sans que le montant des investissements en éducation soit toujours le facteur explicatif des différences mais aussi au sein des pays où les systèmes éducatifs accentuent souvent la reproduction des inégalités. En France, les écoles privées largement minoritaires face aux écoles publiques accueillent une élite qui se distingue par sa réussite scolaire et plus tard universitaire et pratiquent selon les données réunies par l’économiste Thomas Piketty une exclusion sociale quasi-complète des classes sociales défavorisées. Au Brésil, les universités publiques à l’inverse accueillent l’élite brésilienne laissant aux universités privées le soin de répondre aux besoins de millions de jeunes brésiliens défavorisés. De nombreux systèmes éducatifs trouvent leur propre modus operandi pour, en bout de course, se convertir en une fabrique d’inégalités.


Les dédales de l’innovation

Il faut donc innover pour permettre d’éduquer mieux, plus longtemps, partout. L’éducation est d’abord un bien public (public good) et les États se sont arrogé la mission d’assurer à tous un accès large et égalitaire aux savoirs. La plupart des États ont montré les difficultés à remplir cette mission. L’innovation et l’adaptation semblent antinomiques avec le fonctionnement même des systèmes éducatifs. Des ressources importantes sont allouées dans un gigantesque réseau de tuyaux débouchant après de multiples dédales dans les salles de classes. La gestion d’une telle infrastructure s’est avérée de plus en plus complexe ; les besoins de gestion et d’évaluation ont progressivement empiété sur le temps éducatif et imposé une lourdeur administrative jugée nécessaire pour rendre compte de l’impact de l’énorme investissement consenti au nom des contribuables. Le métier d’enseignant a progressivement été dévalorisé dans de nombreux pays avec des formations, des salaires et un statut qui ne permettent plus de recruter les meilleurs pour la tâche fondamentale d’éduquer.

Pourtant de nouveaux modèles éducatifs émergent dans certains pays en Europe et en Asie, favorisant l’autonomie des écoles et des enseignants donc une moindre pression de l’administration centrale, la recherche de solutions pédagogiques au plus près des besoins de chaque élève, une plus grande mixité sociale imposée, la reconnaissance des enseignants par le salaire et le statut et l’utilisation « intelligente » des solutions digitales.

Qu’en est-il de la technologie souvent présentée comme la clé d’une révolution éducative ? En quoi les technologies digitales peuvent-elles contribuer à résoudre les problèmes structurels des systèmes éducatifs dans les pays qui expérimentent une dégradation progressive des conditions d’apprentissage et d’enseignement et aider ceux qui souffrent d’un problème d’accessibilité aux ressources et au soutien pédagogique ?

Il y aurait une corrélation positive entre l’intégration des technologies digitales dans les techniques d’apprentissage et les performances des élèves mais dépendante du temps passé sur ces solutions digitales. Les tests PISA montrent que l’utilisation de ressources et supports digitaux pendant 1 heure dans l’apprentissage des mathématiques a une influence positive sur les performances. Dans le même temps, l’usage prolongé au-delà de deux heures de ces technologies à usage de loisir a une influence négative sur les performances des élèves et le caractère addictif de l’utilisation du téléphone portable provoque une montée de l’anxiété et est une cause de distraction.


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Faut-il bien plus de numérique ? 

C’est tout l’intérêt de l’edtech que de proposer des nouvelles solutions numériques répondant un ample spectre des besoins éducatifs et permettant d’améliorer les ressources pédagogiques, de faciliter la gestion des établissements, de mieux évaluer les compétences et in-fine de favoriser l’apprentissage à tous les âges de la vie. Les entrepreneurs edtech constituent une communauté hétéroclite d’enseignants, de parents, de programmeurs… exprimant des intérêts divers pour l’éducation et animés d’une volonté d’innovation.

Intéressons-nous à l’enseignement obligatoire, ce que les anglo-saxons appellent K12. Les entrepreneurs edtech résument souvent en une image le besoin d’innovation en éducation : un enfant endormi sur une table de classe ou baillant aux corneilles en attendant la fin du cours. L’éducation serait donc ennuyeuse voire rébarbative ce qui expliquerait le désintérêt des élèves, le décrochage scolaire et à terme l’inadéquation entre les compétences acquises et celles demandées sur le marché du travail. Cette image n’est pas neuve. Le photographe français Robert Doisneau en a tiré une de ses photos les plus célèbres dans les années 1950.

L’innovation en éducation consisterait donc à rendre l’éducation « stimulante », « divertissante », « participative », « personnalisée ». Les enseignants disposeront de plus de temps pour l’interaction directe avec leurs élèves, se doteront de ressources pédagogiques plus engageantes pour les élèves et faciles à créer, utiliseront des données d’évaluation personnalisées en temps réel pour mieux répondre aux besoins de chaque élève, pourront communiquer aisément avec les familles et les élèves en dehors du temps scolaire et répondre en un clic aux exigences administratives de la direction de l’établissement. Le numérique pourra ainsi révolutionner l’éducation et remplir la double promesse d’impact social et d’impact économique.


L’héritage éducatif en question

Ce plaidoyer pour l’innovation en éducation n’est pas né avec le numérique. Les écoles Montessori, Waldorf, démocratiques, Freinet… ont toutes été à différents moments les tenants d’une « révolution » éducative où l’éducation devait être considérée comme une « fabrique inclusive » reposant sur de nouvelles pratiques d’apprentissage. La pédagogie des opprimés du pédagogue brésilien Paolo Freire élaborée dans les années 1960 cherchait à réunir des « éducateurs-apprenant » et des « apprenant-éducateurs » qui dialogueraient ensemble pour développer de nouveaux savoirs critiques. La technologie a toujours été intégrée à la réflexion des innovateurs en éducation. Freinet a introduit l’imprimerie dans ses écoles dans les années 1920. Maria Montessori a bâti sa pédagogie autour de la pensée scientifique. Ivan Illitch et Paolo Freire encourageaient les éducateurs à s’approprier les nouvelles technologies de la communication dont la télévision éducative. Seymourt Paper prédisait même une révolte des élèves s’ils devaient continuer à s’asseoir passivement dans une salle de classe pour consommer un savoir prédigéré.

Qu’avons-nous fait de cet héritage ? Une des grandes constantes a été de renvoyer ces pédagogies au rang de pédagogies « alternatives » ou marginales. Les résistances des systèmes éducatifs au changement ont longtemps empêché de procéder aux transformations rêvées aujourd’hui par les entrepreneurs edtech. Ironie de l’histoire, les fondateurs des géants du numérique dans la Sillicon Valley scolarisent leurs enfants dans des écoles Montessori ou Waldorf où l’usage du portable est banni…

Les entrepreneurs edtech sont-ils plus qualifiés ou plus visionnaires que leurs illustres prédécesseurs ? Les difficultés auxquels ils font face pour imposer leurs solutions dans les écoles et collèges disent la persistance des lourdeurs et des résistances mais aussi parfois la vision insuffisante qui est la leur. Bien sûr les grandes entreprises du digital (GAFA) ont massivement envahi les systèmes éducatifs qui se sont dotés massivement d’équipements et de solutions numériques. Des startups ont réussi à imposer des produits innovants et dans le même temps intéressé les acteurs du monde financier pour venir épauler leur développement. La pandémie de COVID-19 a montré le bien-fondé dans cette situation de crise sanitaire des dispositifs d’apprentissage à distance bien que la visioconférence ne soit pas un outil éducatif par nature. L’investissement nécessaire aux entrepreneurs edtech a besoin de résultats tangibles pour se pérenniser et les résultats sont toujours longs à obtenir en éducation. Les revenus générés par la majorité des solutions digitales sont aujourd’hui sans commune mesure avec la valorisation financière souhaitée par les actionnaires de ces entreprises. Le mariage entre bien public et intérêt privé s’avère difficile. L’éducation obligatoire reste un « bien public ». Les financements se réduisent et les startups apprennent à composer avec le temps long. Beaucoup d’entre eux choisissent alors de se reporter sur les entreprises pour poursuivre leur développement : la gestion, la formation, le bien-être des employés deviennent des priorités des start-ups edtech.


L’intelligence artificielle: pivot du changement?

La technologie est-elle réellement le pivot du changement espéré ? David Edgerton, historien des sciences et des technologies et professeur à King’s College London nous dit à propos de la technologie que nous sommes trop prêts à croire que nous savons tout sur elle et ses effets or nous en savons remarquablement peu. Il est selon lui extrêmement difficile de répondre à la question de savoir dans quelle mesure l’invention a joué un rôle important dans la transformation de notre monde. Nous n’avons pas d’inventaire des inventions. Nous ne disposons pas non plus d’un inventaire de l’importance de ces inventions.

Ce débat sur le rôle de la technologie dans l’innovation éducative rebondit depuis quelques mois avec l’irruption de Chat GPT. L’intelligence artificielle générative – sans qu’elle soit associée à une théorie pédagogique particulière – semble selon leurs créateurs (non nommés à la différence des pédagogues) devoir repousser les capacités des systèmes éducatifs et permettre de générer de meilleures ressources pédagogiques à moindre coût, de mieux évaluer les acquis des élèves et de mesurer leurs besoins en temps réel, de libérer du temps aux enseignants en leur fournissant les données qui leur permettront de s’occuper des élèves en ayant le plus besoin tout en sachant pouvoir compter sur des chatbots servant de tuteurs aux élèves pour un ensemble de tâches plus routinières. Bien sûr l’intelligence artificielle ouvre la porte au plagiat à grande échelle, à l’utilisation biaisée des sources mais ces défauts seront selon les « experts » progressivement gommés par des développements plus précis tout comme les problèmes de sécurité des données et de propriété intellectuelle des sources seront eux-aussi avec le temps résolus.

La position dominante de Open AI sur le marché de l’intelligence artificielle, le coût du service, l’illusion de la gratuité, les coûts de traitement informationnel, les coûts énergétiques associés à ces puissances de calcul, le péage qui s’organise autour d’un ou deux interlocuteurs uniques sont-ils compatibles avec la recherche du bien public ? Les coûts cachés de l’intelligence artificielle générative commencent à être mieux documentés. Ils ressemblent aux coûts exponentiels des serveurs pour les plateformes de streaming une fois qu’AWS ou Google ou Microsoft se sont assurés que vous utilisez exclusivement leurs services.

Le choix fait par des entreprises tel que la française Evidence B - choisie comme la startup la plus innovante du BETT 2024 – de privilégier la recherche et le temps long pour créer des solutions propriétaires montre qu’il existe un chemin à la marge des GAFA pour apporter des réponses vraiment innovantes adossées à une compréhension fine des besoins des apprenants et des enseignants.


Les entrepreneurs bricoleurs de l’edtech

C’est tout l’intérêt des démarches d’incubation comme celle de MindCET aujourd’hui ou de l’Open Education Challenge hier que de permettre aux entrepreneurs edtech de prendre la mesure des problèmes qui se posent aux professionnels de l’éducation pour valider leurs solutions et dans le même temps éduquer leurs investisseurs aux spécificités d’un domaine “à impact”. Ceux-ci apprennent vite et deviennent pour certains d’entre eux des passionnés et des experts en éducation.

La sélection des finalistes GESA – Global Edtech Startup Awards – dont la finale 2024 vient de se tenir à Londres démontre la diversité, le talent et la passion des entrepreneurs edtech.

Parmi ces finalistes, Eneza Education, une entreprise sociale basée au Kenya, propose des programmes éducatifs numériques fonctionnant sur des téléphones de base à un prix de 0,10$ par semaine.  Ils sont d’ailleurs de plus en plus nombreux à se battre aujourd’hui sur ce front de l’accessibilité comme par exemple Kajou entreprise sociale créée par Bibliothèque Sans Frontières. À l’autre bout du spectre Nolej et Storywizzard proposent aux enseignants de créer leurs ressources pédagogiques à base d’intelligence artificielle générative.

Ces bricoleurs de l’éducation sont toujours occupés à créer ou réparer des activités d’apprentissage de toutes sortes en y apposant leur marque, leur style distinctif. Ils répondent à la définition employée par Claude Levi-Strauss dans son ouvrage : L’esprit sauvage : « De nos jours, le bricoleur reste celui qui œuvre de ses mains, en utilisant des moyens détournés : son univers instrumental est clos, et la règle de son jeu est de toujours s’arranger avec les « moyens du bord ».

La multiplicité des outils et des solutions proposées aujourd’hui par ces entrepreneurs du monde entier vient appuyer la vision d’une éducation aux mains de « bricoleurs » passionnés.




Meet the world’s best minds

“Meet the world’s best minds”

This last pandemic year has made it clear that we urgently need reliable views on the world we inhabit to make it a world we want to live in.

Those who spend their lives delving into science, history, political thought, the ways of society, art and literature are well placed to help us here, as well as to spark the excitement of acquiring knowledge, the pleasures of curiosity, and of broadening our scope.

At the beginning of the first lockdown, the EXPeditions team packed masks and gloves, a camera, a mic, a light rig, a set of questions, and set out to connect with more than 150 leading thinkers, scholars, researchers, and scientists in the top universities in the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, and India.

They engaged in accessible conversations to create an experience that is enjoyable, intense and resonates with the challenges of our daily lives.

We turned these conversations into the videos we call EXPs. These can be explored and enjoyed for free on the website.

We feel it’s extraordinary in this last difficult year to have gathered so much scintillating ‘knowledge’, so many ideas across a diversity of fields, in one easy-to-access space and we are hugely grateful for the time and energy our authors have put into EXPeditions.

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Our current catalogue of 500 EXPs contends with climate change from multiple perspectives, with globalisation and economic growth, citizenship, cities, democracy and politics, colonialism, history, the emotions and nervous states, biology and genetics, medicine, AI, individual and collective identity, feminism, race, the classics, art, philosophy, literature, war, the Holocaust and more.

Knowledge, reliable thinking, ideas that are passionate – these are all priceless. From here on in, they are also available to you all – with no admission fee.

We can all begin to think with the best. It’s important and enlivening to do so. And pleasurable.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Back in the fourth century Saint Augustine defined education as “a process of posing problems and seeking answers through conversation”

As we are immersed in the COVID-19 crisis, we realize that education remains more than ever the art of posing the right questions.

Let me compare education to bricolage.In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”. Since the beginning of this major crisis, teachers have learned to take risks, change their practices and innovate in the classroom.

A lot has been written about teachers’ (lack of) motivation before this crisis. For a moment, we believed that all this was about using the right technology. But learning is not about technology. More than ever, learning has to do with the way we we live together, we engage into conversation together.

This echoes Martha Nussbaum’s work in her book Not for profit about global citizenship. For her, the global problems we need to solve question our capacity to come together and cooperate in ways we have not before. When schools reopen, it will be up to the whole education community to develop new strategies to make students global citizens.


Nicolo di Pietro, The Saint Augustine Taken to School by Saint Monica, Pinacoteca Vatican

Nicolo di Pietro, The Saint Augustine Taken to School by Saint Monica, Pinacoteca Vatican

What did we learn during the past two months? A lot of questions came to our mind: How to continue teaching “as before”? How to do it without a physical place common to the teacher and his students but with the same protagonists? How to respond to an exceptional situation with the same quality? With what skills, what training, what goals?

Physical space had disappeared; Students came back home; Heads of schools had become invisible; Parents had become more visible; Time had lengthened: the day no longer had clear boundaries between work and leisure.

But the teacher remains the only one in charge of his class; Classroom assistance remains mandatory; All children have the right to be in class; A class has a schedule; Class hours allow children to acquire knowledge and skills by following a well established curriculum

We also know that schools are very difficult to substitute as a physical space.


Reality is stubborn.

After 10 weeks of closure, we realize that:

- Schools means also daily basic care

- School closures deepen education inequalities

- Connecting with children outside school is a key problem


The digital revolution was not ready in school.

We certainly have the technical means to turn our schools digital. We can give a distance learning course by videoconference to students staying at home. We can use a virtual class which reproduces the functioning of the class with a shared screen and a chat tool for the pupils.

But none of these solutions has been thought of as a replacement for physical school. In fact, nothing was as ready as we thought. Nothing has ever been thought of on a large scale so that children no longer have to go to school.


Less is more

Today with digital, you have to learn to do less, better, shorter.

Learning does not consist in seeing your students in full screen. Imagine a teacher 50 centimeters away from each of his students, feeling their breath, blowing in their face!

Learning is first and foremost the art of distance, the art of knowing how to use pedagogical supports wisely and to animate the discussion on subjects that require a specific approach and address challenging issues!

In a visioconference, the teacher scrolls through a powerpoint presentation – prepared in advance – by moving from one slide to another according to the time allotted for the lesson. It is therefore an imported pedagogy.

The particularity of a lesson on the contrary is that it is part of a dynamic process. Students need to know more at the end than at the beginning. They all go from point a to point b. We must therefore ensure that this progression takes place.


What should educational continuity look like when there is no school?

  • To a motivated, respected teacher who is capable of animating a distance course in an intuitive way by not reproducing the traditional model of the course “one against many” but of the course “each with everyone”;
  • To mobilized and united families pooling digital resources and educational attention;
  • To children who seize the chance to learn with others in an interactive way;
  • To an education system that accepts to assess differently;
  • To digital solutions that are designed by and with teacher to replicate an innovative educational experience, not a pale copy of a shared workspace specific to companies’ meetings.


The importance of social learning

Learning is nowadays increasingly seen as a mix of formal and informal experiences. What we call “social learning” refers to the degree of interaction between learners of different levels of competence. Learning from the others, learning with the others are fundamental elements of the learning experience and essential for students to get full ownership of what they learn.

But we will all agree that concentration on tasks, quality of dialog between students and teachers, students mental health, are essential indicators to design successful (and pleasant) learning paths.

This is what I call the “Art of interaction” i.e. the capacity of teachers and students to engage into a continuous and granular conversation about learning.


 How do we move forward?

Do you remember Mary Poppins? How many teachers dream to have her magical powers when they face a sleepy classroom at a distance on a gloomy Monday morning!

The success and sustainability of innovative online learning solutions rely on the capacity to engage learners in a continuous way, over a course period or over a school year. More committed learners means more interactions, more knowledge.

One of teacher’s main challenge is to propose learning experiences that allow genuine student engagement.

In a classroom, the learning process is usually driven by the teacher. The teacher designs the lesson, defines the learning objectives, is in charge of student assessment. Often the result is a top down process that leaves a number of students “off the road”.

There is no magical solution to raise student engagement. Alternative school models haven’t proved significantly more efficient than “traditional” ones. A democratic school for instance where students have an equal say than teachers is no guarantee of student engagement.

The success depends on the degree of ownership that can be gained at the student level, i.e. if they are fully part of the learning process. Participation is a critical point in the classroom daily routine.


Participation in the classroom

Roger Hart wrote: “Only through direct participation can children develop a genuine appreciation of democracy and a sense of their own competence and responsibility to participate.”

Fully participatory classrooms are the one that are built in interaction and embed participation whatever the topic, the moment, the setting. The pedagogical concept behind interaction has therefore to be very refined and it has nothing to do with technology.

I will argue that the bricoleur-teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone. Our teacher-bricoleur knows  the importance of teacher-student relationships, confirmed by John Hattie  to explain student achievement. Classroom discussion, reciprocal teaching, jigsaw method, feedback intervention are some of the techniques and tools with the highest probability of success while online and digital tools have among the lowest.

Jim Groom, in his evocation of The Glass Bees, reminds us that “teaching and learning are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together”.


The role of technology

Far from establishing a distance, digital solutions can help bridge a gap between less and more participatory students, enabling the teacher to dedicate more time to those who need it most.

Far from dissimulating the human side of education, technology helps respond to basic needs, making the teacher a mentor and the student an actor of his own learning.

This is where digital technology should make a difference in the classroom and contribute to:

  • Increase the enjoyment and emotional connection that teachers have with students
  • Enhance peer interactions;
  • Decrease the level of aggressive relationships
  • Prevent misbehaviour in daily routine
  • Ensure maximum time is spent in learning activities
  • Facilitate group activities so that learning opportunities are maximized.
  • Expand participation and learning through feedback to students
  • Improve teachers’ responsiveness to students’ needs;


A few tips for distance learning: Less is more

- Do as usual! Prepare your lesson before giving it on a virutal platform

- Each online lesson should last a maximum of 30’

- Avoid reinventing content

- Do not confuse your learners with an overambitious use of third party tools and services

- Use a regular pattern of communication to help establish a sense of community

- Maintain student attention during content delivery

- Extend the life of a lesson beyond its final assessment

- Set clear and measurable learning outcomes

- Use carefully positioned quizzes to pause your learners and prompt reflection

- Use additional platforms to support your teaching where the central plaform’s functionality falls short

- Encourage learners to engage in authentic tasks

- Direct social dynamics by highlighting selected contributions

- Develop your students as autonomous learners by asking them to continue the work at home

-Use a provocative question to wake up the class and extend a live debate after class in a discussion forum

(adapted from MOOC Design Patterns Project, Warburton and Mor, 2015)


Towards a new school project

Schools won’t be the same after this crisis. A lot has been learned about our limitations and resilience when faced with the urgency to teach and learn.

Students will go back to school but school will have to rethink their project.

I will suggest 10 criteria that could characterize a new school project

1. Innovative learning experience

A school project should foster student’s ability to learn how to learn and develop as a human being.

2. Participatory Method

A school project should recognize the unique capacity of children to engage with essential problems in their community and lead the change by bringing new solutions.

3. Creativity 

A school project should enhance students’ creativity, make them think differently, unveiling their talents and helping each of them to take the best of them.

4. Teacher’s role

A school project need to be designed from the perspective of the teacher rather than using him as a mere instrument for projects that have been designed neither with him nor for him. Teachers should be directly involved in project’s monitoring and evaluation.

5. Knowledge activation

A school project is not so much about the quantity of knowledge it deals with but about the opportunities provided to students to activate knowledge in real-life situations.

6. Digital transformation

Schools must be prepared to operate continously on two dimensions: in the physical space and at a distance. Different strategies must coexist but the main principles of education for all remain.

7. Behaviour change

A school project is a transformation tool enabling behavioral changes on a number of issues. Students as individuals and in groups should be empowered to investigate a problem, design solutions, take actions and evaluate them.

8. Families’ involvement

A school project has to be inclusive and take into account multiple learning spaces, thus strengthening family participation in the learning process. The intergenerational dimension of learning is essential to social and family cohesion.

9. Community impact

A school project should have a transformative, multiplying and long-lasting impact in the surrounding community involving local actors in a shared learning experience.

10. Contribution to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

A school project should consider all SDGs starting with climate change as a transversal priority for the whole learning process and should directly contribute to the goals’ achievements.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

“The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”. In this time of changes, we realize more than ever that teaching is and remains a two way thing!

Schools’ future has to be designed by all of us.



Learning in 2145

I like Alex Beard very much! And especially the way he looks at education as “work in progress”, his humility and sense of humor when he makes us think about the future of learning.

His last tryptic – a radio series on knowing, teaching and learning – won’t defraud Alex’s fans. Alex is a former teacher, a recognized specialist. But on top of it, he is a believer! He believes in meeting people, talking to them, He believes in the art of conversation. He is not the first one. Back in the fourth century Saint Augustine defined education as “a process of posing problems and seeking answers through conversation”. No doubt Alex will refuse such legacy but any way…

What will happen in 2145? Learners of all age will come together and help one another. A more solidarian and intergenerational education with a mix of AI will enable us to know, love and care each other better. His optimistic and rigorous investigation is released in times of COVID-19 where we need more than ever reasons for hope.

I met Alex for the first time in Sevilla (Spain) where he presented an article on the future of education. He compared education to bricolage and made me thought about the role of technology in our future education system.In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”.

Alex works at Teach for All and knows better than anyone that teachers are used to “working at a height above the ground” and look like high wire artists walking a tightrope in their attempt to catch their students’ attention. They set up their scaffolds in the classrooms for an academic year, just the time they are given to fix or improve education. Scaffolding is not only another word for teaching. It is also a way of teaching, Psychologist and social constructivist, Lev Vygotsky, refers to  scaffolding as  designing activities that support the students as they are led through the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD).  A learner can finalize the acquisition of a given skill through interaction with a teacher or a skilled peer.

Listening to Alex piece on Teaching, I was wondering: are teachers ready to take risks to change their practices and innovate in the classroom? Intuition often says no and research evidences seem to confirm that individuals choosing to teach are significantly more risk averse. A lot has been written about teachers’ motivation. How can we envisage teachers’ role in and outside the classroom to “develop love of learning”?




While listening to the piece on Learning where Alex designs a continuous learning space and time, I remembered the painter Barnett Newmann who wrote once that “only time can be felt in private. Space is common property. Only time is personal, a private experience”. I believe the same can be said for learning space – a common property where learners meet and experience together – and learning time – where each learner lives a private and intimate experience.

Alex Beard makes us think extensively about education changes taking place with climate change. Even if we rightly believe that education is part of the answer on climate change, we may question the efficiency of teaching in this matter. Ivan Illich criticized the “illusion on which the school system rests (assuming) that most learning is the result of teaching”. For him, “most learning happens casually”. Margaret Mead argued that fighting back the dangers facing our planet should begin by understanding “the immense and long-term consequences of what appear to be small immediate choices”. Is it the responsibility of schools and teachers? Protecting nature can’t be reduced to an educative challenge. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, once argued that “protecting nature is a right of the environment in regard to man”. Enforcing this right is maybe first a matter for lawyers and not for teachers.

We wish to believe, as Alex does, that changes will take place “naturally”. Bumping into someone can in fact take place anywhere. Learning is no longer or not only about technology. Learning has to do with the way we occupy the space, with the way we live together, we engage into conversation together.

However 20 years ago, Seymour Papert argued that: “children will (no longer) sit quietly in school and listen to a teacher give them predigested knowledge. They will revolt.” Revolt may be the necessary step for changes to happen.

My friend Roger Hart, author of “Children’s Participation”, a masterpiece on environmental education, used to quote Simon Nicholson’s Theory of Loose Parts.  Nicholson writes:

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it”.

He adds that “it does not require much imagination to realise that most environments that do not work (i.e. do not work in terms of human interaction and involvement in the sense described) such as schools, playgrounds, hospitals, day-care centres, international airports, art galleries and museums do not do so because they do not meet the ‘loose part’ requirement; instead they are clean, static and impossible to play around with. What has happened is that adults – in the form of professional artists, architects, landscape architects and planners – have had all the fun playing with their own materials, concepts and planning alternatives (…) and thus has all the fun and creativity been stolen: children and adults and the community have been grossly cheated and the educational-cultural system makes sure that they hold the belief that this is ‘right’ ”.

Nicholson argues that “the dominant cultural elite tell us that the planning, design and building of any part of the environment is so difficult and so special that only the gifted few can properly solve environmental problems”.

The changes Alex is envisioning can’t be dissociated from a deeper change process with a political dimension that will enable local communities starting with children to take over direct responsibility on the decisions that matter for their future.

Roger Hart wrote: “Only through direct participation can children develop a genuine appreciation of democracy and a sense of their own competence and responsibility to participate.”

After listening to Alex Beard, it is certainly time to read again the Convention of the Rights of the Child and its articles 12 and 13 and be convinced that a political framework for change already exists. We just need to use it!

I hope Alex will give us soon a new piece on “Revolt in education”! Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi could then be invited:

“Each one of us has the potential to bring about change if we channel our energies and our anger at injustices in the right way. Even a small spark can dispel darkness in a room. And each of us represents a small but critical spark if we act on the problems we see rather than just witness them”.

Global citizens in times of COVID-19: the ultimate challenge for schools

“La peste che il tribunale della sanità aveva temuto che potesse entrar con le bande alemanne nel milanese, c’era entrata davvero, come è noto; ed è noto parimente che non si fermò qui, ma invase e spopolò una buona parte d’Italia.”

“The plague that the Health Tribunal had feared might enter the Milan area with the German troops really did enter, as is well known. Just as it is well known that the plague did not stop there, but went on to invade and depopulate a good part of Italy.”

 Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi, Capitolo XXXI) has been widely used these days to better understand our reaction to pandemics. Similarities with the 1630 Great Plague of Milan have been analysed by Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize in Literature, in a recent opinion published in The New York Times. Pamuk insists on humanity’s tendency to create rumours and spread false information as an unprompted response to pandemics. The most common rumours during plague outbreaks were about who had brought the disease in, and where it had come from.

La peste di Firenze del 1348 in un'incisione di Luigi Sabatelli

La peste di Firenze del 1348 in un’incisione di Luigi Sabatelli

Do we have the ability nowadays to resist rumours, misinformation and stigma and to fight back the tendency to lock ourselves down into our fears and prejudices?

All those interested in the educational dimension of the pandemic will read with great delight the open letter written to his students by Domenico Squillace, principal of Liceo Scientifico Alessandro Volta, a secondary school in Milan. Squillace urges his students to preserve the most precious asset we possess: our social fabric, our humanity.

Pamuk doesn’t say anything else when he argues about our ability to share reliable information and build a common knowledge that “begets a sense of solidarity” between people and “encourages mutual understanding”. Pamuk sees hope for a better world to emerge after this pandemic, if we can “embrace and nourish the feelings of humility and solidarity engendered by the current moment.”

This optimistic statement echoes Martha Nussbaum’s work in her book Not for profit about global citizenship. For her, the global problems we need to solve question our capacity to come together and cooperate in ways we have not before.

When schools reopen, it will be up to them (and to us!) to develop new strategies to make students global citizens.

If we don’t succeed, then, in the words of the Milanese principal: “La peste avrà vinto davvero”: “The plague really will have won.”

Educating global citizens may well be schools’ ultimate challenge in times of COVID-19!


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