Bruno Devauchelle: What if the internet was down?

Among the crises that follow each other, we have not yet experienced what could happen: the Internet has been down for a long time. In the school system and to listen to national leaders, this question does not seem to arise. We talk about the “sovereign cloud” since we discovered the dominance of large American companies, but we do not talk about the lack of connection to the cloud through Internet access. This “taken for granted” connection to the Internet is nevertheless fragile and finite. Fragile, because in many situations, in the classroom, teachers and students find it difficult to connect. Recently, because Internet access is almost more than twenty-five years old, and still at low speed for many years and sometimes even today. In other words, initially we used computers in teaching working locally, without external connections and sometimes without an internal network. So we knew how to do it… but could we go back?

After school no school…

Bruno Devauchelle: What if the internet was down? On March 17, 2020, no one imagined that face-to-face learning in a joint physical presence of teachers and students could no longer be possible and that another way of functioning, online, would have to be imagined. And yet this difficulty has been overcome, at least partially. The shock was such that many researchers discovered an appetite to discuss these technologies when they were not aware of their contours and possibilities. Many teachers have discovered video conferencing, online sharing spaces and even, for some, digital social networks. As for the students, they quickly realized what they could do about the situation: adapt to the context of family life (if possible) and rethink their commitment to learning at school (dropout). Finally, the families opened a new window to the school and its crafts, while for the most part they were unaware. If the Internet had not existed, what would we have done?

What is interesting is to note that many people wanted a return to the previous time. It is a kind of careless testimony of the school institution in its most traditional form. What is paradoxical is that at the same time, through Internet access (regardless of the channel), we have imposed on society and the educational institution “everything online” or almost. Of course, this was based on commercial, financial and technical logic, the influence of which, although acknowledged, is nevertheless significant. While we are immersed in reflections on digital sobriety, we are forced to live “connected”. We have even transformed parts of our human culture to make way for these machines and services that have led to transformations in living together and in society.

Society here and there

What we want to bring to the debate is the idea that a crisis can lead to a permanent shutdown of the Internet (perhaps among other electricity services) and that, in the framework of an approach to risk situations, we take this into account. . The military, who brought the Internet to the baptismal font in the 1960s, partly thought about this situation, if only through the architecture of the Internet network (Arpanet). Recent events, the war, the political will to stifle the opposition, have chosen this solution of removing access to the Internet. But to examine this situation at school, it would be enough to rethink the school computer before the Internet (and maybe even Minitel). From a society of mediatized communication, we would return to a conception of a society of the present, of the here-here, of a physically accessible man. But with limited access to knowledge and information, the possibilities of close and distant communication are greatly reduced.

The school can do without the Internet

If we return to the classroom, we find that the teachers have, for the most part, retained some of their habits of life in unattached presence. Some even have to do it, there is not always internet in the classroom and wifi is sometimes absent. However, these habits are based on practices centered on physical presence, this unity created by the form of the school: creating places out of the way, out of the family, out of the village, to bring children together and transmit to them what adult decision-makers they think that. we must try to inculcate them in children before their active entry into society. What has changed with the massive generalization of digital tools over the last fifteen years is that the school may not be a closed place and that even in case of physical impossibility, it is still possible to continue the educational action. And, a new feature, this action can also be performed in the “family territory”. However, this can only be achieved if children, parents, teachers and educational institutions agree on goals and possibly goals.

The possibility of an internet outage would affect only a small part of the school and university system. Admittedly, this part would be particularly affected and threatened by this problem, but the vast majority of the system could work, as it could during the shutdown for those without internet access. In the pedagogical and didactic plan, teachers can do without the Internet in most cases. Even if regret could be expressed for not being able to access different documentary sources more quickly, unrelated practices could continue without difficulty. This is almost the paradox that the last two years have offered us: the use of the Internet and the possibility of doing without it.


The arrival of the Internet to the general public around 1995 in France ushered in a period of mass enthusiasm. If the bursting of the internet bubble in 2000, 2001 could have alarmed us, the machine to connect was launched. The school system has continued to rely on it to develop its operations, encouraged by a political power that seeks to “optimize” its services at lower costs. But education is not a service like any other: its history and its regulatory framework have enabled increasingly optimized control with digital means and at the same time the continuation of school and university activity without any or little digital means (as far as they are worried about the lessons themselves). The specter of the digital distance teacher has not entered the facts, even if it has lingered for a long time in critical minds. The advent of “cloud” logic has not led to any real question of the dependency it may impose on users. By continuing to develop solutions and services for cloud-based education and connectivity, we’ve opened a door we never imagined could be closed.

The teacher builds in his classroom, his establishment, working methods which subject more and more the risk of a wrong internet. If one realizes the presence of these tools only when they do not work, this should not be a reason to consider this situation. Regarding the use of digital technology in the classroom, we must keep in mind that it can be used without the need for an Internet connection. But this requires some transformations: all applications and resources must be able to be installed locally in the institution, see on the workstation of the teacher and that of the students (if they have). Data transmission can no longer be done synchronously, therefore it is necessary to organize the possibility of desynchronization. Institutional control must give up its dream of power at a distance. In other words, it is essential that with my computer, tablet and even my smartphone, I can plan to use a good part of its functionalities and applications; that I must not be connected to any Internet access; that I can locally manage all my data and resources…

At a time when we are talking about the sovereign cloud, Moodle solutions, digital work environments, distance training for teachers, it is time to imagine, like a hospital or a hacked community, for example, that there is a risk of hacking and that it should be considered before imposing in panic and urgency. The Covid crisis has shown that everything can be changed in a very short time, the anticipated management of risks, without falling into catastrophe, must be part of our way of thinking…

Bruno Devauchelle

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