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Guest post: Information Literacy in the French curriculum, towards a national approach – Anne-Lise Harding

The Information Literacy website editorial team recently invited Anne-Lise Harding to write a blog post for the website in her capacity as the Further Education representative on the CILIP Information Literacy Group Committee. In it she talks about information literacy in France and gives us a history lesson in the French education system and recent reforms. She invites us to consider some questions at the end end and so do get in touch to keep the conversation going!

Anne-Lise Harding
Anne-Lise Harding

I joined the CILIP Information Literacy Group Committee back in 2015 as Further Education (FE) representative. My current position is Learning Resources Manager and Governor at South Essex College, a large organisation covering the south of Essex, offering both FE and HE provision. I first became interested in information literacy whilst completing my MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield. Prior to joining the University of Sheffield I completed a dual degree in English Language and Librarianship at the Université de Rouen, my hometown, in France. When the prospect of completing my final dissertation became very real (too real), I consulted with several people around me, library professionals or not. I met with my librarianship lecturer, Françoise Chapron, back in Rouen as I knew I wanted to include a French perspective on my chosen topic. Françoise, an information literacy specialist, recommended looking at the difference in implementation in secondary schools, my professional background. The rest is history, so they say! You can have a read of the final work here.

Since completing my MA, I have carried on engaging with the French literature on information literacy and projects run in educational settings. Back in February this year, the new ministry for Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced a reform of the baccalauréate. First introduced in the 13th century, nationalised in 1808 under Napoleon, the baccalauréat’s last major reform dates back from 1993. Whilst the 1993 reform aimed at creating specialised pathways of study (literature, science, economy and social sciences) for the mainstream examination (there is a professional baccaléaureat for students in lycées professionels, equivalent of Further Education colleges), the reform proposed by the current ministry has not been without challenges. Back in 2005, another reform was aborted due to generalised protests across the country. This reform has, however, gone through and 2021 candidates entering the lycée in September 2018 will now be offered a flexible “menu” of subjects to choose from (very similar to an A-level offer), some compulsory (“tronc commun”) and some optional (“options”).

So why the French history lesson?

The “tronc commun” will include a brand new subject “ Humanités Numériques et Scientifiques”, digital and scientific humanities. The introduction of this new subject has confused the general public and media who fail to see the purpose of a less traditional topic.

So, what are “Humanités Numériques et Scientifiques”?

Through this subject, the ministry for Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, aims to equip young people  « les connaissances indispensables pour vivre et agir dans le XXIe siècle en approfondissant les compétences numériques de l’élève».  “The indispensable knowledge to live and behave in the 21st century by deepening digital skills”.

Have you noticed? This statement is very close to the JISC definition of information literacy: “the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society”.

Information literacy being at the heart of the formal French curriculum, albeit in the final years of compulsory education (informal teaching takes place in lower years through the “professeurs-documentalistes”, librarian teachers) is unprecedented in France. Whilst the role of professeurs-documentalistes has not been formalised yet, interdisciplinarity has been highlighted through a special seminar held in March for specialists across subjects as well as digital specialists. A crossover between digital humanities and information literacy, “Humanités Numériques et Scientifiques” promises to give formal education and practical skills to young French adults. The first examination session for the subject takes place in 2021 and it will be very interesting to look at the way competencies acquired through the curriculum will be assessed. I am aiming to keep a close eye on the “programme” (curriculum) and the involvement of library research specialists and librarians in order to document impact.

So over to you:

  • Do you think a formalised education through the main curriculum is beneficial?
  • Do you think digital humanities and information literacy should be taught as a stand-alone subject through librarians only?
  • How do you think knowledge/skills should be assessed? Through a final exam, research project or continuous assessment?


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