I am 58 years old, with 30 years of experience in vocational training, and I am Director of the CNP-R. The mission of the CNP-R (French pedagogical and resource centre) is to support the acquisition and development of professional skills for entry into the profession and the further training of the 5,000 trainers (monitors) in the MFR network (Maisons Familiales Rurales). It is managed by the ANFRA (French Association for Training and Research on Work/Study Programmes), and is also a centre for resources, monitoring and research in the fields of education, vocational training and experiential learning.
How has EPALE been of value to me? Well, EPALE makes it possible to carry out monitoring.
I would first like to highlight several unique aspects of the Maisons Familiales Rurales. There are 430 MFRs, around 100,000 learners enrolled on work-study programmes, with a mix of ages (14 years old to adults), a variety of statuses (initial training, apprenticeship, employees, etc.), a multitude of specialities (350 different qualifications in around 35 professional fields), all spread over rural areas, which in ordinary times raises issues of mobility, dispersion, mobile coverage, etc.). You can imagine the effect of a lockdown! Furthermore, we are in the field of work-study training programmes, with the aim of "sharing the power to train" between schools, businesses and the social environment (particularly the family). This has required simultaneous, and very swift action (and support) for these three groups.
At the beginning of lockdown, some work-study students were in training at MFRs, others were working in a professional environment in a company as trainees, pupils or apprentices, or employees, under different programmes. MFRs are part of the public sector, and have a contract with the Ministry of Agriculture. However, they are also autonomous associations managed by a Board of Directors mainly represented by parents. Although the movement is structured into federations and national unions, isolation posed a real risk. We had to ensure good management and organisation of HR, pedagogical continuity, and continued support for partners, especially companies.
This all happened very quickly, as the situation was unprecedented in many ways.
Remarkably, the priority of the educational teams has naturally turned towards personalised support for work-study students. Attention has been drawn to the here and now: Where are you? (home/business), Under what conditions? (safety/material/connection, etc.). The aim is to accommodate the partners as best as possible to reassure them of our capacity to continue supporting them in the long term and thus to promote continuity. The more “school-related” issues of pedagogical continuity came later. We faced two types of situations.
Although of course, the reality is always more nuanced.
Some teams already had experience with digital tools and resources and therefore were familiar with distance learning (about 10%), while the majority of teams had very little experience of distance learning. Over the last three years, we have been developing a platform W-@lter, which has been accompanied by a massive internal training plan in the network, developed and implemented by the CNP-R and specifically designed for our special pedagogical approach. Fortunately, this platform has now been put in place, and has been an essential resource enabling us to offer a personalised, user-friendly, operational tool aimed at both work-study students and trainers, bringing together all the existing tools and resources and based on our pedagogical design. The current situation created an opportunity. A "survival kit” for MFR trainers in lockdown: The "MFR at home" package was delivered to all 5,000 MFR trainers one week after the start of lockdown, which is quite remarkable given the major health crisis. It contains a work-study students’ kit with a user guide (tutorials, etc.) and a teacher’s kit with virtual classroom tools, configured and ready to use, a "space" for team work, a "space" for resources including all the solutions (tools, digital resources, etc.) proposed by Ministries and institutions since lockdown and a reference guide including both technical aspects (tutorials, etc.). It also contains information on the meaning of training and what it means to support students during lockdown, and in particular how to promote a different approach to that of face-to-face academic education. This first version will be followed by a second and third version, as we have also set up a collaborative strategy for ongoing improvement, which takes into account feedback received from the field.
Generally speaking, and in relation to our MFR model, I would say that despite the sadness and harshness of the situation that we have faced, MFRs have been able to rediscover a certain agility in the way in which we have dealt with this new reality. Perhaps this is precisely because it is not so new to us after all. Indeed, the very identity of MFRs is based on using pedagogical discontinuity and rupture rather than continuity, as a major lever for learning, and the controversy that comes with it. Thus, in the past at the CNP-R, we have come up with approaches, methods and tools that have allowed us to value discontinuity as a source of learning. Moreover, at an MFR centre, half of the training takes place in a "confined" socio-professional environment. The French Rocard law of '84 refers to: "full time training at an appropriate pace", in other words, "continuity of time in a discontinuity of place".
Enriching this "out of school" time with learning is therefore common practice for us and, in this case, an opportunity for us to continue doing the work we have already begun.
Beyond our values of supporting the people who help MFRs to "succeed differently", I would say that our teams have been generally well equipped to adjust their support techniques as closely as possible to the differing situations and needs. We collect feedback daily and we will consider together what we need to model, modify, develop or remove. In addition, a number of observations can be made about the proposed tool and approach. Looking at the requests we have received, attendance at the webinars organised to present the tool, the number of connections after three weeks of implementation, and the varied feedback, interest is high and the tool and approach seem to meet the needs of the teams and students. To date, the approach as a whole appears to be relevant. Of course, this does not solve the question of the "digital divide" in the territory, equipment and skills (of work-study students and trainers). For us, this is a central issue, but one which does not require the same level of responsibility and investment.
In the medium term, we are thinking specifically about sustainability. Once this period in which innovative practices are flourishing is over, how can we pursue this in the long term, especially with the most "fragile" audiences? As MFRs, and family associations, how can we make it possible for parents to fulfil their educational responsibility? How can they be empowered to educate their children? Finally, how can we support internship companies (which are often Very Small Enterprises) in this time of crisis and in their mission as co-trainers?
More generally, perhaps this period will open-up opportunities for (re)affirming the central role of training in society. It is an investment in the future for individuals and for society, especially after this extraordinary adventure, after which we hope that many things will be different. Once the medical and multiple pressing concerns have passed, what levers can be used to (re)invent the world of tomorrow, and how?
Should we see the lockdown as a unique opportunity to develop less "academic" and more empowering methods of pedagogical support?
We believe that this is an opportunity to facilitate shared training powers by implementing approaches for the co-construction of apprenticeships between students and trainers, students and students (peer learning), students and tutors, and students and the socio-professional environment. In any case, this period will be a great opportunity for the CNP-R to work on accelerating the development of support practices.
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