France: Another bite at the computer cherry

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Computers first appeared in French schools 25 years ago, but it is only now + that the government is taking serious measures to connect all schools with the + new information and communication technologies.Education ministers Claude + Allgre and Sgolne Royal last week presented an ambitious three-year plan "to + bring French society into the 21st century". The aim is to give all pupils + and students - be they in the nursery or at university - access to computers. M+ Allgre described a future of infants drawing pictures on computers, primary + pupils using electronic mail and accessing the Worldwide Web and secondary + schools tackling ever more advanced processes. Lyce and university students + are to have personal electronic addresses. M Allgre's scheme draws largely on + recent parliamentary reports, notably one by Senator Alain Grard which + concluded that massive investment was needed to equip schools with the new + technologies. French schools have, on average, 10 computers each compared with+ Britain's 31 and Germany's 21, according to the Grard study. Latest + information shows that in 1995 there were 355,850 computers in secondary + schools - on average one for every 15 secondary pupils. It is estimated that + nearly 60 per cent of primary schools have at least one computer, but about + half of these are more than 10 years old.Teacher training is a top priority, + not only in use of the technology, but also in the production of software. The + plan allows for 100 new teaching posts in the teacher-training colleges, plus + employment of 1,000 young PhDs, to ensure that 40,000 new teachers a year are + computer literate. Thousands of classroom assistants will learn computer + handling and maintenance.The total budget for the three years is estimated at + Fr15 billion (#163;1.5 billion), but the state, in the form of the education + ministry, will not shoulder the full burden; local communities are expected to + play a large part. The ministry will contribute just over a Fr1bn a year and + local authorities will provide the equipment - rented rather than bought, to + avoid obsolescence. A state support fund for poorer authorities is intended to + ensure equality, and during the first year schools in the deprived educational + priority zones and rural areas will take precedence. Chief education officers + have until February to draw up plans detailing their area's needs. Each school + will nominate a teacher or librarian to be responsible for information + technology. Telecommunications firms have guaranteed low subscriptions for use + of the networks; for example, France Telecom will offer schools special rates + for access to Educnet, a new educational site, costing only Fr40 annually for + each pupil. Ministers are anxious to avoid the pitfalls that befell + Informatique pour tous, the last major attempt to introduce computers into + schools launched in 1985. This equipped schools with 120,000 computers at a + cost of Fr2bn, but foundered because of software, maintenance and training + problems.A more successful earlier pilot scheme that started in 1972 culminated+ in Operation 10,000 Micros. This was on course to install terminals in all + lyces by 1986, until it was abandoned by the socialist government that took + power in 1981.

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