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France's tweeting toddlers


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France's tweeting toddlers

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They start them young at a primary school at Siarrouy in the Haute-Pyrénées of south-west France.

Since November 2011 they have been learning to write, not with a pen, but with a computer keyboard. Some of them are already tweeting at just five years old.

Twitter is playing an increasing role in French classrooms. Teachers are using it more and more with ever younger pupils.

It is a simple idea. The teacher writes the message that they want to send on the board – then the children tap it into the computer.

The youngsters can not even read and write yet, but their teacher says it is a useful exercise to develop spelling and to form thoughts.

Olivier Menadier explained: “When you ask some youngsters, ‘what could we write?’ they answer, ‘My Dad is strong.’ That’s got nothing to do with what we were talking about. So to get them to take account of what the others are saying about constructing a phrase is also an important goal.”

The classroom Twitter account is closely controlled. No-one can read the messages without the teacher’s say-so.

Here, the children do not send messages to their parents like other classes do. Here, they correspond with Canadian classmates in Calgary.

One mother, Sophie Herkenrath said: “It’s all part of a child’s working toolbox now, you can’t side-step the internet and all its possibilities, so it’s rather good. Afterwards, it’s like everything. You have to set a framework and limits and above all explain well the interest in this type of use.”

There are about 150 twitter-classes in France at the moment. These pilot projects are not universally popular. Critics have described them as everything from a gimmick to a dangerous mixture of business and education.

But Nicolas Szilas from the Unige Faculty of Psychology and Educational Science said: “What’s interesting about these technologies, is that when they are used to communicate, you can finally break out of these four walls and start learning for real. Because you can explain something ten times in class, but how do you transfer that to the real world afterwards? That’s the big problem.”

A private school in Geneva has a different experience. Like many European schools, tablet computers have arrived. This one has kitted out 1,200 pupils. The sheer size of the project makes it a one-off in Europe. A class of 12 and 13-year-olds can do maths over a network, for example, and the teacher can keep an eye on the calculations of all 21 pupils from his desk.

Karim Hejjaj, who teaches at L’Institut International de Lancy said: “You gain attention, you’re sure that everyone’s taking part, you can check everyone’s work on the spot. It is much quicker, and much more efficient, at least that’s what I think. Children have taken to this now as though it’s a tool they’ve been using from time immemorial.”

The tablets cost a little over 160 euros per child per year, a figure some say is quite a modest investment that could become the norm.

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