Science in society

Education and digital programme: background, objectives and main projects

Changed on 25/11/2021
Convinced that digital technology can help meet the major challenges of education, Inria has made this field one of its main research and innovation challenges for several years now. Muriel Brunet, the institute's pilot of the "Education and Digital" PEPR, presents the outlines of the "Education and Digital" Programme.
Muriel Brunet

What was the genesis of the Education and Digital Programme?

Inria's involvement in the field of education is not recent. It is based on three milestones: (i) research, with several project-teams working on the various challenges of education (FLOWERS, WIMMICS, MNEMOSYNE, POTIOC, SCOOL...), (ii) innovation, through the various links the institute maintains with companies in the sector and the creation of startups, and (iii) training, with Inria Learning Lab and Inria Academy. In this last part, our scientific mediation network has also been doing a lot of work with academies and classes for several years.

The Inria white paper "Education and the Digital Age: Issues and Challenges" is the basis for structuring Inria's opinion and providing a guide for action in response to the issues and challenges.

This is why the government has entrusted Inria, along with AMU and CNRS, with the co-piloting of the PEPR (Priority Equipment Programme for Research) of the "Education and Digital" Acceleration Strategy.

What is the objective of the "Education and Digital" programme?

The "education and digital" programme within Inria was created to support the development of this ecosystem by organising and structuring existing and future projects in order to best respond to the major challenges of education in and through digital technology. This programme is also linked to the Institute's commitment to the dialogue between science, technology and society. It is around this dialogue and a better understanding of the sciences and how these technologies work that we will be able to co-build, with all the stakeholders in education and lifelong learning, not forgetting parents, a digital society based on trust in digital technology, education and training.

To achieve this objective, our primary role will be to create the conditions for its implementation. The number of education and digital projects is increasing, but there is no real internal community structured around these subjects. It is up to us to organise this, to set up and structure a cross-disciplinary approach between research and innovation with the support of the Inria Foundation and mediation, so that we can benefit from each other's knowledge and together take up the challenges of the sector, whether they are related to mastering technical skills, developing critical thinking, digital confidence or digital sovereignty.

What, precisely, are the major current challenges for education in and through digital technology?

The first challenge is not to confuse education, digital training and digital education.

In the first case, we need to give everyone the keys to understanding the technological, societal and environmental changes linked to digital technology, to awaken critical thinking and debate, and to develop the cross-disciplinary skills that will enable people to adapt and train throughout their lives.

In the second case, we are going to look at training methods, teaching practices and the personalisation of learning, made possible by digital technology to meet the adaptation needs of each learner, taking into account his or her environment, strengths and difficulties, while supporting teachers in the evolution of their role.

Moreover, the complementarity of the two encourages more gender diversity in the curricula and in the digital professions, which is a major challenge in a world that is being transformed by digital technology. The "education and digital" programme also includes actions in favour of the feminisation of these professions.

Today, educational continuity has made the existing inequalities in the adoption of digital technology and the ability to learn of all people even more apparent. This inequality also concerns parents and their ability to accompany children in their work. Some parents are equipped to do so, and others are not. Another challenge is therefore to reduce inequalities by implementing learning solutions that are increasingly personalised thanks to AI and the data that we can share (e.g. KidLearn or Adaptiv Math resources that come from research teams and Edtech), neurosciences and cognitive sciences in particular; we need to strengthen collaborations between digital sciences, educational sciences and human and social sciences.

Another point: the importance of rethinking teaching methods in a context where hybridisation is developing. Today, the existing tools were created to accompany face-to-face teaching. It is necessary to rethink our tools in relation to the evolution of teaching and the role of the teacher by developing tools to help with decision-making and management and by encouraging the transfer of research to Edtech companies to develop these services.

Finally, digital training is a real challenge for the actors in the sector. Learners must be given the keys to understanding and using digital tools. This starts with teachers, who must be able to take hold of the subject by being properly and sufficiently trained before being able to pass it on in all its dimensions to pupils.

In concrete terms, how will this commitment be formalised, both at national and international level?

We have several structuring projects resulting from the PEPR on which we have well-defined objectives today. The first, Candyce (CArnets Numériques DYnamiques, Interactifs et Collaboratifs pour l'Enseignement), is a software infrastructure based on Jupyter Notebook, which will offer the possibility of building specific platforms from primary to higher education to teach digital and through digital in all disciplines. The challenge behind this infrastructure is strategic, since we are supporting the development of a sovereign and open source infrastructure and an associated ecosystem; our ambition is to push it to the European level.

Another project is the creation of the education data platform, with the aim of making data on learning traces or school life in education shareable, interoperable and exchangeable. All this data should enable us to feed research and the management of education, and to make the link with industry, which needs data sets to develop new services better adapted to the needs of each learner. At the same time, we have invested in the European GAIA-X strategy and in particular in the Data Space Education and Skills (DaSES), which aims to bring about the emergence of a European education and skills data ecosystem, and which brings together private, public (such as the Ministry of Education's Digital Education Directorate) and institutional players in the sector with the aim of promoting these data exchanges.

We are also working on a strategy to accelerate innovation, which will be based on calls for expressions of interest, calls for exploratory projects, all in conjunction with EdTech companies and research teams to help enrich the resources and services useful to teachers, school heads, academies and research.

Finally, we have several multi-partner projects, such as "1 scientist/1 class: Chiche!", whose challenge will now be to move from the experimentation phase to the national deployment phase. In the proposals of the Education and Digital White Paper, we have identified the importance of the project for a citizen's and popular digital university, which is a project that we are also very keen on, since it will make it possible to create a space for training, sharing and collective reflection on subjects such as education for and through digital technology, which will offer discovery and lifelong training in computer science thinking.

We will also strengthen our participation in European projects on digital skills and sovereign infrastructures.

To accompany the existing and future systems, we must finally think of a 360 degree operation. We will only be able to achieve this if we work in partnership with all the players involved in this subject: ministries, academies, associations, EdTech companies, local authorities, but also parents of pupils.

The Ministry of Education's Digital Education Directorate, a privileged partner of Inria in the development of education for and through digital technology

Inria is currently working hand in hand with the Ministry of Education's Digital Education Directorate, with which it is involved in several projects and productions such as Chiche, Candyce, the education data platform and MOOCs with our partner Class'Code. These synergies will be further strengthened as the institute plans to work even more closely with teachers, managers and ministry operators (Canopée, Onisep, etc.).