French schools report sharp rise in digital textbook use

French schools report sharp rise in digital textbook use

The use of digital textbooks in French schools has risen sharply in the past three years, but further growth is hampered by a lack of funds to acquire equipment and content, according to new research.

A poll conducted by TNS Sofres for the association of school textbook publishers Savoir Livre revealed that 29% of the 15,283 teachers surveyed use digital textbooks, up from 16% (of 6,183 teachers surveyed) in 2011.
Primary schools continue to lag behind secondary level. The proportion of primary teachers using digital textbooks rose from 8% in 2011 to 20% in 2014, compared to increases at lower secondary level (pupils aged 11–15) from 21% to 36%; and 20% to 35% at upper secondary (15–18).

Broken down by disciplines, maths and physical sciences lead digital use (at 46%), followed by history and geography (38%), modern languages and economic and social sciences (34%), life  sciences (31%) and literature (24%).

Only 15% of teachers expect digital textbooks to replace print in the medium-term: 71% of teachers said the main obstacle to the development of digital in schools is a dearth of equipment; 68% blamed a shortage of cash to buy content; and 48% a lack of training.

Most digital usage is collective. Only 7% of pupils have their own digital textbooks. Instead they are accessed through school computers by 25% of users, at home for 31%, and through a digital workspace—at home or at school—for 45% of users.

Publishers, hit by a massive cut in government spending on lower secondary school textbooks—from €300m (£235m) two years ago to €60m this year—are still working out an economic model for digital content. This is vital if “the Anglo-Saxons are not to invade France [and] end up controlling the whole system,” said Sylvie Marcé, president of the education arm of the French Publishers Association (Syndicat National de l’Edition).

President Hollande has promised a major plan for the 2016 school year, but worryingly for publishers, no specific details regarding the plans have yet been announced. “It is very important that we start preparing in 2015,” Marcé said.

Publishers have a key role in developing digital textbooks and other content, she added. The survey showed that 82% of teachers have confidence in school textbook publishers to develop digital content for the curriculum, but they wanted freedom to choose their own material.