FRENCH researchers have pledged to make their work more relevant to the practical needs of the classroom.
Philippe Meirieu, director of the national institute of pedagogical research, last week outlined his vision for the future.
Previously professor of education at the University of Lyon II, Mr Meirieu was appointed by education minister Claude Allegre a year ago to drive through reforms to make the institute's research less theoretical - "less philosophising about the sex of angels", as the minister put it. Instead, it will "promote and co-ordinate concrete research connected with schools and their teachers".
Mr Meirieu said the purpose of the institute - traditionally at the vanguard of French educational research - is now the "democratisation of access to knowledge".
Research would cover past practices that could shed light on those of today, including "study of textbooks, how classes were organised throughout the ages and relations between schools and families". The institute would also investigate such matters as playground behaviour, difficult situations and their solutions; and new technologies and management systems.
It would "try to identify innovations, assess their possible effects and imagine scenarios for the future", he said, promising the work would be carried out "shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers and education managers".
Mr Meirieu is introducing a number of changes to improve the institute's contacts with the chalkface. Its administrative committee will be broadened to include representatives of parents' federations, lycee pupils, regional authorities and teachers associated with on-going research projects.
More than 1,200 teachers nationwide collaborate with the institute, as do teams from teacher-training colleges and university research departments. But now the principle of teacher secondment will be officially spelt out. To ensure the institute's work is flexible, attachments will be limited to a term of four years, renewable once. Teachers working part or full-time with the institute will have to reapply for their posts when their contract ends, instead of the present practice of automatic renewal.
Mr Meirieu plans to strengthen the network of teachers working with the institute, so that by June 2001 "in each lycee and lower secondary and every primary education administrative district" a staff member will act as correspondent for the institute.
Communications with families are also being improved, with distribution of information packs to all schools as part of a campaign to publicise the institute and its work.