Impact: Education Innovation

Working-Class Kids Are French Avant-Garde For Classroom Use Of Tablets

A school in the low-income banlieues of Paris has been living in the digital age for three years. Results are starting to show.

Kids at the Lallier school in Hay-les-Roses, south of Paris
Kids at the Lallier school in Hay-les-Roses, south of Paris
Caroline Brizard

L'HAY-LES ROSES
– On the desks of these third-graders, the usual pencil case and exercise book … but also a digital tablet device. Yes, this school, located in an underprivileged town outside of Paris, is on the cutting edge.
"Please make sure that you are connected to the Internet," are the last French words the elementary school teacher, Mouna Boumaiz, 32, will say before the day's English lesson begins here in
"Good morning boys and girls," Boumaiz says in English, in a cheerful tone. "I am going to the supermarket. I want bread." Like the other pupils, 10-year-old Yanis, flicks through the images on his touch screen to find the one that matches. In turns, each child asks a classmates for a different item.
And now, the weather forecast with Sofiane, who who will hear it straight from the tablet device. Headphones on his Rasta hair style, he listens to a typically British voice. "Today it’s sunny in London. It’s cloudy in Oxford today. It’s snowy in Manchester…" Sofiane can pause and resume the audio file as he please, so he learns at his own pace.
Three years ago, L’Haÿ-les-Roses, in the often troubled banlieues south of the capital, became one of the first school districts in France to introduce tablets. And the fruits of the efforts to integrate them in the curriculum are starting to show, and spread.
Multi-purpose
"It's a not only a picture library but also a camera and a language lab, all-in-one," Boumaiz explains. "They can record themselves, listen and correct their own work. And the apps allow us to try loads of different projects."
The pupils seem to love it. Their faces light up when they talk about the tablets. "We can also use them when we can't find what we want in a book," says Tiphaine, 9.
"In science class, we can zoom in on the pictures so we see better," adds Kelly, who is wearing a white sweater and small braids in her hair. Another girl sitting next to her notes that the digital interaction allows each child to participate.
Binta, who just arrived from Senegal, explains diligently: "When we learn a poem, we record ourselves and then we listen to it to see whether it's good."
The tablet offers both tactile fun, and the infinite information of the Internet. If well-directed in school, the device can evolve into a positive alternative to the home computer that may be hogged by an older sibling, or used exclusively for Facebook or video games.
A witch story
Like her colleague, fourth-grade teacher Anne Fragola, 34, has adopted this special tool. "The pupils are less afraid of being wrong. They're more independent, more self-confident and help each other more," she says.
By groups of three, her pupils are creating a presentation based on the work of children's book illustrator Roger Hargreaves, which they will later present to first-graders. In each group, one student focuses on writing the text, while the other two work on the illustrations that will then be photographed. Then, they will all record their scripts: theirs is also an audiobook!
Hanna and her all-pink outfit, Cathie, with a black bow in her hair, and Imane, with her hair up in a bun, created the story of Mrs Witch, who has "a witch's broom and a witch's temper."
Pioneers
In classes of geometry, science or art, the tablet opens up a new world of possibilities of experimentation for Anne Fragola. For example, with an app called Solar Walk, her pupils can move around the solar system, and zoom in or zoom out. "Before we had the tablets, to explain them the alternation between day and night, I would put stickers on a bowl and use an electric lamp. Now, they can see the Earth move in space and they understand."
The digital hardware was provided by the regional education authority, three years ago. At the beginning, it was not easy to figure out how to best make use of the tablets in the classroom. The teachers also had to look for and buy apps, which tend to cost between 1 and 3 euros, they could use with the students.
"Some really did not fit the purpose", Anne Fragola says. Still, the sense of adventure excites these French classroom pioneers, and they share their discoveries with their colleagues on the regional authority's website. This too, is an innovation.
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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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