All the schools we contacted have one thing in common in this coronavirus crisis: they have already had teachers and / or students in quarantine. The rules are the same for all, they are defined by circular (this one for the fundamental, and this one for secondary): a professor who is under a “quarantine certificate” (because he is positive but asymptomatic, or because he is awaiting the results of a test) is not incapacitated for work, he must therefore remain at the disposal of its organizing power.
Teachers are required to ensure pedagogical continuity. And students who would be in quarantine can receive work from their teacher, just to stay up to date.
How to ensure pedagogical continuity?
But how is this organized in practice? There, the situations vary greatly from one school to another. Some are used to digital. The Institut des Dames de Marie in Schaerbeek used to work with the online platform Smartschool well before confinement. If a student is in quarantine (there have already been 80), he receives the documents via the platform, and thanks to a camera placed in the classroom, he can follow the lessons live.
When a teacher has to stay at home, it’s more complicated to organize live lessons. “We could project the lesson in the classroom, explains director Isabelle Warichet, but there would be no interaction, and someone would need to supervise the students anyway”. Suddenly, if the class is at the end or the beginning of the day, the students are released and work at home on the basis of the instructions given by the teacher via the platform. When it is in the middle of the day, they do the same but under study, under surveillance.
Paper and a multitude of platforms
Vinciane Rosart, director of the fundamental section of the Athénée royal de Saint-Servais, a school with differentiated supervision, prefers to replace its teachers in quarantine. With young students who are often affected by the digital divide, it is easier. “If a student has to stay at home, she specifies, the school especially tries to provide him with paper documents …“Since confinement, they still have recourse to Padlet online collaboration tool, but not all students have the equipment, connection or support to use them.
In another atheneum of Brussels, teachers must give the youngest paper lessons in advance for 15 days, so that they are ready to work in the event of quarantine. For older children, the team has just received training in Teams.
The Federation’s platform, Happi, not compulsory
Teams, Padlet and Smartschool: these are already three platform names. And there are others. Many others. Since the end of August, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation has made available Happi. In the office of Minister Caroline Désir, we are told that it has 600 registered schools and 110,000 users. But it is not compulsory.
Each school is free to choose. And even, sometimes, every teacher. This is the case at the Institut Sainte-Famille d’Helmet in Schaerbeek (basic education). “Each teacher uses the platform that suits him, according to his preferences and his computer level, says director Damienne Magerman. Some only use WhatsApp. So parents who have several children in the school are likely to be confronted with several different tools.. ” And here too, the paper format remains important to be able to reach all the students.
Still this digital divide
The confinement has therefore pushed schools to go digital, but the situation is still very uneven depending on the institutions, teachers, and student audiences. This is also the observation of the ASBL Educit. It is responsible for the “Digital start-up” project, intended for secondary school students (from year 4), designed in collaboration with all of the Federation’s networks, and whose aim is to reduce the digital divide.
“For the moment, it is very much the reign of resourcefulness, explains Daniel Verougstraete, one of the founders of the association. Often, if there is a platform, there is no training or no adequate material. Teachers often have old computers or don’t know how to use them. And students, regardless of their socio-economic background, are not always better: they are more used to smartphones than to computers.”
Equip students rather than schools
At the same time as providing a single platform, the ASBL defends the idea of equipping pupils rather than schools with computers, and of supporting teachers by training them. “Computers must become like a slat or an eraser, so that they can be used for a few moments during the lesson. This is not possible with a computer room that must be reserved and to which you must move.”
For the moment, Educit technopedagogues work in sixteen pilot schools. The goal is to reach a hundred schools within two years, and to spread the approach as much as possible in all the networks. Daniel Verougstraete says he recognizes “his paw” in the new digital strategy of the Minister-President of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Pierre-Yves Jeholet, and his Minister of Budget and IT, Frédéric Daerden.
Their project is to equip 260,000 students from 3rd to 7th secondary with a computer or a tablet. In its 2021 budget, presented on October 9, the Federation has planned to release 20 million euros to finance this new strategy.
Both at the level of the schools and the Federation, things are moving. But this will not be enough to reassure everyone in the event of re-containment …