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eTwinning - bringing down distances and connecting students in the rural and outermost areas of France

This year, eTwinning brings forward the rural and outermost areas of Europe. We have prepared for you a special series of articles that will be published during the course of 2019.

eTwinning in Saint-Félix-de-Sorgues

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Saint-Félix-de-Sorgues is a very old village; it used to be the chief town of an important commandry (administrative level of European orders of knights) of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. The village is located in the valley of the Sorgues, south of the department of Aveyron, in the south-west of France, one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. Most families in the area are farmers, specialising on breeding the sheep that provide milk for the production of the famous Roquefort cheese.

The village now counts more or less 200 inhabitants, something that prevents it from having a school. For this reason, Saint-Félix-de-Sorgues has come to an agreement with other villages in the area and participates to what is known and not uncommon in France’s rural areas, as an intercommunal pedagogical group (Regroupement pédagogique intercommunal – RPI). This partnership between the villages in the rural area of Aveyron has permitted the villages to have 2 classes: one in Versols (8km away for Saint-Félix-de-Sorgues) which welcomes pupils between 3 and 6 years old, and the other in Saint-Félix-de-Sorgues for pupils between 7 and 11 years old.

Olivier Reggiani is a dedicated eTwinner, with 16 years of teaching experience and specialisation on teaching students with disabilities. Currently, he teaches in Saint-Félix-de-Sorgues in a multilevel class where students stay 4 years before leaving to college on the nearby town of Saint-Affrique. Throughout his working career as a teacher, he has created and participated with his classroom in many eTwinning projects.

During my first project, I collaborated for two years with a class in Iceland. The name of the project was “View of Children”. This project looked very much like a correspondence between two classes: sending documents, exchanging questions and answers. It was also when we talked a lot about Iceland in the news because of the eruption of the volcano. I found in this first project a beneficial effect on the language teaching and an important curiosity of the pupils with respect to the lifestyle and the cultures of the partners.

It was made obvious to me that eTwinning made it possible to work very concretely with other classes, so I decided to set up a new project: “Write a book together: the 12 European stars have disappeared”. With four other partners, we wrote a book in English, which starts with the disappearance of the stars of the European flag. In each chapter, a group of children has to travel around a country and find one of the stars. Pupils’ involvement and enthusiasm made this project a success! Their parents reported a strong progress of their children, not only in English, but also in other subjects.

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The ardent involvement of the students triggered the involvement of the civil society and more specifically the involvement of the town halls. They financed the purchase of computer equipment to enable the class to work and communicate with the partner classes.
My school has benefited a lot by its European opening; the first pupils who worked on these projects are now in college or high school. This type of project-based education is very popular and colleagues from the school district of Saint-Affrique trained and went on various eTwinning seminars organised abroad. My colleagues recognise the importance of offering our pupils from rural areas this type of project-learning education to enable them to see further and broad their prospective. The implementation of eTwinning projects on a European scale allows them to amplify their ambitions, giving them undoubtedly the desire to move towards and international training. Moreover it gives language teaching a purpose and a reality.

eTwinning has an important effect on the quality of learning, but above all, for our pupils, in rural areas, an effect on their perception of their future.

eTwinning in the land of many waters - French Guiana

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Some students in French Guiana go to their class by boat, have lessons on a Saturday, and their playground yard is the tropical forest.

In eTwinning, we rarely have the opportunity to highlight Europe’s outermost areas. French Guiana is an overseas region which population is characterised by its youth and its multiculturalism. It is located on the north Atlantic coast of South America in the Guianas. French Guiana is the only territory in South America that is part of a European country. The French department is well known for three things: there is a pepper named after its capital, Cayenne, the well-known French novel “Papillon” by Henri Charrière, and that it is the site of the European Space Agency’s spaceport, at Kourou.

Education in French Guiana is compulsory for all children between ages 6 and 16, and follows the French curriculum.

Sandra Macabre is an active eTwinning ambassador in the area, with a 17-years working experience, she describes to us her school, and in what ways eTwinning has improved her teaching methods and classroom.

The secondary school “La Canopée” is located in Matoury, a medium-sized city at the scale of French Guiana, with about 26,000 inhabitants.
Even if the middle school is located in the city centre, pupils come from all over the city and the suburban areas. There are about 750 pupils and 55 teachers. As it is the case in most schools of the academic district of French Guiana, our pupils are multicultural and multilingual. Many of them are allophone, that is to say that they speak French as a second language or as a language of education. A high percentage of our students also come from underprivileged classes.

In order to meet specific needs of our students, our secondary education is classified as “a reinforced priority education network” like most secondary schools of the regional district of French Guiana. Thus, our school focuses on motivating pupils making their learning more concrete, increasing their self-confidence and widening their minds through trans-curricular projects at local, regional, national and European levels for many years (eTwinning projects, Erasmus+ projects, international partnerships including school exchanges).

Our students have the opportunity to learn Portuguese, Spanish, English as foreign languages or Creole from French Guiana as a regional language. We aim to expand students’ abilities through the use of ICT and several specific programmes. We also have a class for students with special needs, a class for pupils who are not native French speakers and who have arrived in France for less than a year.

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eTwinning has improved my classroom in several ways. It has really been the first step of major changes. First, eTwinning has functioned as a tool to tackle students' lack of motivation as it implies project based-teaching. The English language has become more than a subject. It has become a tool of communication and collaboration with our European friends. It has helped to make their learning concrete. The project has enabled me to develop my ICT skills and to integrate them to my teaching practice. Thanks to my first eTwinning project, I had fund to equip my classroom with an interactive video projector and the school had fund for a second computer room.

eTwinning has been the gate to access the former Erasmus programme as I have found my first Comenius project partners on the eTwinning forum. Therefore, the impact of this first Erasmus project on my school has been huge at academic level, and we were awarded national and European eTwinning Quality Labels and the 2016 European Mevlana prize.

Students really commit in the projects. More teachers are interested in project-based teaching. More permanent teachers are willing to work at our school than before. Many parents expressed positive opinions about European projects.