books vicky van de kerckhovenThe use of digital textbooks in French schools has risen sharply in the last three years, according to a survey by TNS Sofres on behalf of school textbook publishers Savoir Lire. However, it seems that further growth is being hampered by a lack of funds to acquire hardware and content.

In 2011 16% of teachers surveyed said they used them at school as opposed to 29% in 2014. Most of this use is in secondary schools i.e. collèges and lycées. And thank goodness – when Benj and Caiti were at lycée, they had to cart a ridiculous amount of textbooks around with them. Expensive textbooks too, I might add. Ruadhri, at collège, has some hefty tomes as well, although he’s able to leave most in his locker at school, but some nights his bag weighs a ton when he has a couple of different subjects to do for homework.

Highest use of digital textbooks is in maths and physical sciences (46%), with literature trailing at 24%. That seems ludicrous since most of the set texts are classics and therefore out of copyright and so available for free as ebooks on many sites. Let’s save the poor parents a few euros.

Mind you, at present most digital usage is collective. Nearly a half of the pupils of these digital-savvy teachers access their digital textbooks via school computers or some sort of digital workplace. Only 7% of pupils have their own digital textbook.

French publishers are still trying to work out a digital content programme. In 2012 they saw government spending on lower secondary school textbooks slashed from €300m to €60m. That explains why Rors’ books, all provided by the school, are starting to look rather tatty. Publishers won’t be bringing out quite so many new editions. It had actually got a little crazy a few years ago. Benj and Caiti were only a year apart at lycée, but a few of Benj’s books had been revised so that we couldn’t pass those on to Caiti. (At that time parents bought the books, although there was a means of renting them and also there was an allowance of €90 per pupil in our region, Limousin, towards the cost, plus the rentrée scolaire to help meet costs. However, it wasn’t always enough.) But Caiti’s year were the last intake before a major overhaul of lycée courses, so her books couldn’t be passed on to anyone as they were now all defunct! Seems we’ve gone from one extreme to the other.

hollandeflour001Président Hollande, about whom only 12% of French people have anything good to say,  has promised a major plan for the 2016 school year: un grand plan numérique.

Quite what this e-éducation plan is, no one knows yet, other than it’s being one of 34 plans towards making a nouvelle france industrielle. Publishers are growing rather concerned since they need to be preparing whatever it is that’s going to be needed. They have a key role in developing digital textbooks and 82% of teachers have confidence in them to develop appropriate content for the curriculum. But they need to know what it is first! Politicians are currently wading through 40 propositions put before them by the Conseil national du numérique (CNNum) so, this being France, it could be nearer 2061 than 2016 when things get sorted out! We’ll have to wait and see.