This week we are talking to Rémy Challe, the CEO of Edtech France, the new association gathering more and more startups of the French Edtech.
On the menu, the state of Edtech in France and elsewhere, its problems and opportunities for the future. Has Edtech really succeeded in changing Higher Education for the better? What are the inherent problems of education that hinder educational innovation?
Many questions to which Rémy answered through his analysis.
TestWe: So what is the state of Edtech in France?
Rémy Challe: We are at the beginning of something there. 6 months ago I did not really know what it was for various reasons. But there is clearly a growth curve that is emerging. Now, although this growth curve is double-digit in France, when we look at the massive investments in India, China and the United States, you realize we French still have a long way to go.
France is a country of education! We must be able to support our entrepreneurs much more and not just send them to CES in Las Vegas, if not in a few years, the tools we will use will be Chinese, Indian, American etc. That does not mean that they are bad, they are just, I think, less adapted to the system of values â€‹â€‹of the French education. French Edtech becomes almost a question of sovereignty!
T: What is the French value system? What are we claiming?
R.C: There is a form of universalism, France is also the country of Human Rights. In a very pragmatic way: the protection of data, well, it is not known in the same way in France, China, India etc.
And that, we must claim it, we must protect these values â€‹â€‹and promote them in France and abroad. I sometimes meet entrepreneurs from the French Edtech who make 100% of their profits abroad. So that's good, it means that they export easily and that the "French touch" is successful, but it's sad at the same time because it means they have difficulties offering their solution in their own country, and that's not normal.
T: What is the feeling of the actors of Education regarding Edtech tools?
R.C: (laughs) Well, there are various feelings. First, here, I would not talk about continuing education/ professional training, because Edtech is widely accepted and there are fewer dogmas. We are dealing with actors who are companies that are going through periods of significant digital transformation, and Edtech is already considered as a solution that one must be armed with to train all members of a company.
When we talk about school in France (ie K-12) it's complex, because there is a market that is a public market. In France, it is not the professors who buy for example, which is not the case in China. And even if they want to buy an innovative and relevant solution to meet their educational needs and those of their students, it is not they who will pay.
You want to sell to a primary school, you have to go to the commune, you want to sell to a college you have to go to the department and for a high school, you have to go to the regional administration. And then the one who decides is not the one who pays, the one who pays may not be the one who will use the solution, and he may pay for someone else to finally use the solution, so you see it's a little nightmarish.
And then there is more dogma. First, there is the argument that education is free while there is always someone who pays in the end, and then there is always a kind of a distrust of the private sector. There is often this vision of entrepreneurs as sharks of finance when in reality it is far from being the case. In Edtech, we find almost exclusively entrepreneurs passionate about Education or people coming from the world of Education who seek to solve real problems. Whatever happens, we do not go on this sector for greedy purposes.
Finally, there is this third silo which is that of Higher Education. Here we find private actors, public actors. Generally, in Higher Ed, there is a general awareness that Edtech could greatly help. This position is explained by several factors. First, there is an appetite for innovation, there is a climate of competition that pushes institutions to innovate. And then there are these 20-year-old students, who use their smartphone during their classes. So the question is not how to ban these tools but rather "the learner that faces me is not the same as one was twenty years ago, so I must adapt. " So there is a change of posture expected but also a change that is inevitable.
Basically, we are moving from a time when the teacher was the only holder of knowledge to a time when knowledge is everywhere and we just need to know how to access relevant information, a time where we must learn how to learn and the teacher plays a determining role there above. The teacher must become ... well, a coach.
TW: What do you think about teacher autonomy?
R.C: There are programs that the teacher has to follow, it's clear, but after all, teachers have a certain pedagogical freedom and you have to have that freedom, through which you can choose your own methods, your own textbooks, and so on.
TW: In the Finnish way? In Finland for example, teachers have total autonomy ...
R.C: So we're not there but besides I do not even think that we should replicate this model in France. Finland is Finland, and then it's a smaller country, the scales are different, the traditions are different. On the other hand, in France, there is still pedagogical freedom. The problem is that it is not at all extended to innovative solutions. So perhaps we should give more freedom to teachers as to their pedagogy, their methods ...
In Higher Education, on the contrary, there is more freedom! In the development of programs, the choice of methods ... that's why it's a space that interests me and that can perhaps by capillarity, disseminate this educational freedom to K-12.
So yes, there is a resistance to change, but as I said earlier, awareness is already there.
T.W: Let's get out of the classroom and talk about Education as a whole and more structurally. There is a crisis of Higher Ed that looms on the horizon, especially in the US and the UK. A financial crisis but also a crisis of knowledge via the skills gap phenomenon. What do you think?
R.C: So first, the situation in France is not quite comparable to the Anglo-Saxon situation. Firstly, because Education is "free" when we talk about universities for example, or costs a few hundred euros.
TW: On the other hand there are also more and more students going into the private sector, like business schools
R.C: That's right, there are these schools of commerce, communication, engineers where the costs are relatively high. To be clear, the cost of a student at university (about 13,000 euros) is about the same as that of a student in a management school.
So for the university, it is the community that pays and it's great, and in the big management schools it is the learners who pay and it's not stupid either.
So yes there is a student debt that exists but it remains very far from American or British cases, so the crisis that can be seen in these regions does not exist in France ...
TW: But can it exist?
R.C: It's a fact, tuition fees have increased significantly in management schools over the last decade, they have almost doubled. And yes to start in life it can be a ball to the foot.
Now there are lots of support programs and alternative programs like apprenticeships where it is the companies that pay for students who are also paid between 1,000 and up to 2,000 net euros per month!
Also, we must also not fall into the cliché of prestigious management schools as the places where we find exclusively rich spoiled brats! There are sometimes more diversities in the grandes écoles than in some lecture halls at the university. Even in the grandes écoles, one can have access to scholarships, one can work alongside his studies, one can borrow from the banks if need be.
While it is true that the costs increase, I do not think they can still go up, contrary to what others think, it would not seem reasonable to propose schools at a 20,000 euros yearly tuition fee.
T.W: And the return on investment remains positive?
R.C: Yes it is still positive, now ... It is not exactly the same either compared to 20 years ago. The more graduates we have, the less value our degree has in away. So hiring wages are probably less efficient than 20 years ago.
But I do not believe that the crisis that you seem to announce with reason will arrive in France. On the other hand, there are points of vigilance, we must be careful, education is not a commodity, at least not like any other, we must not fall into a trap as it can be observed in the United States. or elsewhere.