Fighting Educational Discrimination: CNRS Priorities

Our country is the worst student in OECD in terms of educational inequality. The level of education is strongly influenced by the social background. According to the INSEE, the inequality of school performance is strong according to the socio-professional category of parents starting from primary school. “During an instruction given to CM2 students in 2015, children of blue-collar parents made an average of 19 errors and unemployed parents 21 errors, i.e. half of the children of working parents (13 errors). We observe the same interval according to the social level for the arithmetic test

The same trend is observed in graduation. According to a 2019 report from the Ministry of National Education, 96% of children of senior executives and teachers graduate, while they are only 64% of the children of workers and employees.

Graduation according to the socio-professional category of parents and gender. Credit: Ministry of National Education and Youth, 2019 Report

During a press conference on June 29, 2022, CNRS announced that it had included the issue of educational inequality in its 2019-2023 objectives and performance agreement. Thus it makes reducing educational inequality one of its priorities. French research seeks to integrate and understand the reasons for these differences. At the same time, it seeks to develop educational tools that make it possible to reduce educational inequality.

Metacognitive nature

Lewis Gopil, a cognitive science researcher at CNRS at the University of Grenoble, studied “metacognitive traits.” It is the tendency of individuals to use their feelings such as doubt, confidence or even curiosity in their learning. “When we have doubts, we can stop and rush to make the wrong decision: we will think more before answering or asking for targeted information. This can help us understand that we need to gather more information before we can respond.”, He details Science and the future.

Metacognition summarizes “thinking about your own thinking”, so it’s effective to avoid making a bad decision or identifying an error. Metacognitive perception can therefore play a central role in the learning process.

The impact of the social environment

What happens when social background influences these feelings? That’s what Lewis Goupil and his colleagues discovered: “We know that metacognitive traits are formed in infancy, between the ages of 4 and 5, with significant differences depending on the social environment in which children grow up.”For example, questioning practices are very socially located. In all cultures, children ask themselves questions but the method of asking questions is very different. “In some cultures, this is not done to ask adults for explanations but to ask questions of other children, for example.

Conversely, in the upper middle class, children are ready too early to ask questions. This habit is even encouraged by parents: they themselves ask their children many questions, especially at the educational level. “Among middle-class people, when parents play with their child, they ask a lot about objects. In some cultures, I see parents of Pakistani or Indian descent, they are happy to socialize and play with the child, but not in an educational manner.

In the United States, the scientific literature has repeatedly shown that children are already more or less ready to go to school, depending on their parents’ familiarity with education. However, traditional educational practices coincide with the practices of a specific group of the population. “The school is made up of teachers and professors. They are part of a certain social class: the middle class. For middle-class students, school practices are usually similar to the teaching practices started by their parents. On the other hand, young people with more disadvantaged backgrounds, which sometimes differ with educational practice, may feel somewhat backward. Lewis analyzes Gopil.

Confidence tool, a method that … improves the grades of all students

One way tested by Lewis Goupill and his colleagues to reduce this educational inequality is the “trust tool”. It strengthens their attitude to assess students ’confidence. The tool was developed by Joel Proust, a philosopher and research director at CNRS. “From the scientific literature of the case, he noted that this tool was effective in improving the performance of students. It was tested but in France it was never used directly in class.”, Explains Science and the future Frederick Guiller, SVT teacher and project manager of the Scientific Council for National Education. He put this tool into practice in his second grade.

As part of a study, 12th grade students from CP had to guess whether they were able to succeed in a practice before and after learning and then ask themselves questions about their success. The exercise was repeated in ten sessions. Hundreds of teachers took part in the test.

The metacognitive tool is divided into three parts: after receiving instructions, before working, the student places himself on a scale of four levels, including “I don’t think I can do it“A”I’m going to get very good there“”The feeling “I’m going to do this / I’m not going to do this” arises naturally, but the idea in this experience is to make the student aware of their metacognitive feelings at that moment.”, Specifies the teacher. The student then enters the activity. Upon completion, before correction, it “restores itself to the scale of confidenceI don’t think I did well“A”I think I did very wellAfter correction, the student is admitted to a table where he ticks one of the following three boxes:What I did was good, as good or bad as I thought it would be

Example of an educational tool: Trust tool.

The first results are very encouraging: the researchers noticed a significant improvement in performance in the test group after only 5 to 10 uses. “It’s encouraging to see that with a little use we’re already improving

These improvements are explained by the fact that by increasing awareness of his doubts, the student adjusts the level of his effort in the next session. It self-regulates its cognitive activity in a way Descending More efficient. Because he further adjusts his self-control, performance improves from session to session. “If the student previously thought that he had succeeded in the exercise but had in fact failed, then the next time, being aware of his doubts, the brain adjusted the level of his effort to be able to be best engaged in the task,“Frederick Guiller testified.

However, the tool did not reduce inequality since all students, regardless of their background, performed well: “We tested the tool on students from privileged, average and priority schools, and for the moment, there is no difference: it does not allow us to catch, on the other hand, the tool has raised notes from everyone “, Note Lewis Gopil.

Researchers also do not know whether the metacognitive tool itself is responsible for this improvement or whether it may motivate students more than usual to suggest something different than the traditional method. “The tool is fun to use because it has lowercase letters, which can motivate children to do more than usual. “ The cognitive science researcher admits. To avoid this bias, the CNRS team is currently replicating the study with the second version of the tool: “This time, the exercise proposed by the group of students who did not use the tool will be more” fun. “So we’ll see if the tool really works.

But Lewis Goupill remains a realist. According to the researcher, as long as there is social inequality in the society, there will be educational inequality. “Educational inequality reflects social inequality: learning tools are attractive but nothing can be done if children do not eat well or sleep well at home“Research makes it possible to understand the origins of educational inequalities and to try to create tools like trusts to reduce them. But he is not proud of himself for making them disappear.


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