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Exclusive Interview: Isabelle Bonnal on the Covid-19 Situation

In the context of the current health crisis, the Government of Monaco closed all non-essential businesses and educational institutions in mid-March 2020. Students were transferred to a distance learning platform to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Nevertheless, in the light of the assessment that the Covid-19 epidemic in the Principality has stabilized with a total of 95 proven cases, and sadly 4 deaths, the Princely Government has recently unveiled the details of the plan to lift the containment of the Principality which will start on May 4th. The success of this deconfinement plan will depend on the vigilance and involvement of all and will be rolled out over its stages provided the health situation continues to change favourably.

Starting from May 11 progressive and partial resumption of activity in schools will take place, favouring classes that face exams and obeying a strict framework of respect for health standards, compulsory masks for teachers and students, no school canteen, operation in half-groups, no sports lessons. There will be no reopening of kindergartens, nurseries nor the Music Academy.

Firstly, lycée students will come back to school, (classes 1st, Terminale and BTS). On May 18 the return of college students (6th , 3rd and AIS classes) is planned. Finally, on May 25 return of primary school pupils (CP and CM2 classes) will take place.

Monaco’s Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Isabelle Bonnal, gave HelloMonaco an exclusive interview about the current educational climate, including final exams, certificates and online learning practices during these unprecedented times.

Exclusive Interview: Isabelle Bonnal
@ Direction de la Communication

HelloMonaco: Up until now, how successful has the National Education Directorate for Youth and Sports (DENJS) been in minimizing the consequences of confinement?

Isabelle Bonnal: The confinement and universal school closure have been put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. It is therefore, first and foremost, a health and safety issue concerning each one of us to minimize the spread of the virus, particularly among the most vulnerable population.

Ever since the announcement of all school closures in the Principality, namely the Princely government Middle and High schools, the National Education Directorate for Youth and Sports, our headmasters, teachers and non-teaching staff have been fully mobilized. It allows the students to continue with their learning process, despite this particularly trying context. This shared commitment is key to overcoming this challenge. 

HelloMonaco: What do you believe is the most difficult challenge for the educational system during the health crisis?

Isabelle Bonnal: Obviously, we are living in an unprecedented crisis situation no one was prepared to. We all have to adapt to it. The main challenge is setting up an efficient online learning system, without leaving any single student behind. This is a mission that the teachers have largely taken upon themselves. I applaud their unfailing dedication.

HelloMonaco: The school year is coming to an end. How will the students’ learning results be assessed?

Isabelle Bonnal: First, it must be said that the students are assessed regularly throughout the year. This school year is therefore far from being “lost”. Since September 2019, the students have been graded a number of times.

For the students to have equal opportunities, the confinement period will not be graded. The main learning process is maintaining a regular connection between students and teachers. During these confinement weeks, pupils carry on with their education, every day, in a number of ways.

Let’s not forget, however, that students and their families are living in a difficult situation. Their well-being is therefore our major concern. There is no way we’d be putting them under stress or difficulties as soon as they go back to school! They must, above all, rediscover their taste for learning, alongside with their classmates and teachers, all together, after this trying period. According to a recent survey carried out among parents, more than 7 families out of 10 believe that their children have not taken any delay in their learning. For us, this is a very satisfying and encouraging result.

Exclusive Interview: Isabelle Bonnal

HelloMonaco: Under the circumstances, how should school graduates prepare for their university studies? How will their final tests and admission be organized?

Isabelle Bonnal: Due to the current health crisis, the French Ministry of National Education and Youth has decided that the general, technological and professional baccalaureate exams will be validated, based on their school grades. The oral French exam is the only one currently maintained for the General and Technological High School classes.

As soon as the confinement is lifted, students can go back to being evaluated again. These grades will be counted for validating their final “bac” exam and getting a distinction.

An examining board will make an assessment based on the marks obtained throughout the final high school year (Terminale). Here again, I must insist that the jury will consider elements such as online attendance and the efforts registered by the class council.

I would also like to point out that all the 2020 baccalaureate exam holders will get access to the higher education within a framework of the “Parcoursup” scheme.

The latest updates will be communicated to the students via “Parcoursup” by their Monegasque high schools.

Same as in previous years, each pupil is fully responsible for respecting the “Parcoursup” procedure deadlines. If their projects involve studies abroad, they must be kept informed by the relevant institution.

Naturally, our fully mobilized counselors will remain the main references in this matter for the students and their families. The measures introduced to ensure a pedagogical continuity obviously include career orientation counseling for our students.

Exclusive Interview: Isabelle Bonnal
@ Direction de la Communication

HelloMonaco: A student-teacher contact is key during the educational process. Many families wonder why an online education, involving teachers, has not been fully introduced? In this difficult time, parents have taken on the teaching responsibility which may not have the same efficiency.

Isabelle Bonnal: Make no mistake as to what an online education is. It is not about just reproducing your daily course on the screen. It is about globally rethinking the whole educational process. Believing that a course taught by 100 percent videoconferencing would improve teaching efficiency is illusionary. Imagine our children following their online courses all day long, compromised by technical problems and slow internet connections. That would be inevitable with everybody connected at the same time, not to mention inappropriate behavior of certain pupils…

We must also be vigilant to the amount of student screen time. It should only be used when necessary.

You were right in bringing up the parents. They play a major role in this particular situation. It is a collaboration between families and the school that ensures the greatest success.

The younger the students, the more assistance they need in their activities. I fully understand some parents are experiencing difficulties, especially those who do not speak French or master digital tools. I am being very careful not to create inequalities. I therefore required my staff to be particularly proactive in this matter.

Here are some of the examples. IT trainers have been mobilized to solve technical problems; teachers of French as a foreign language are offering their video assistance. As to kindergarten students, an English version of the educational continuity website was communicated to the parents. Education counselors and school leaders regularly keep in touch with the families, making sure students understand what is required of them.

Obviously, it is not all perfect and we can still improve this distance learning procedure. It requires thought and a little bit of time. It is a joint effort and we are being successful in it with the help of the families.

Speaking about that, we’ve recently launched a family survey, rating the quality of educational continuity on a scale from 1 to 10. Primary school was thus rated 8/10, middle and high school – 7/10 demonstrating satisfaction with the system that was introduced. We will also consider parents’ comments for further improvement of this procedure.

Exclusive Interview: Isabelle Bonnal

HelloMonaco: How about sports classes that children were attending, are you planning to introduce distance training for certain sports?

Isabelle Bonnal: Sports practice among students is a particular concern for the DENJS. Physical and Sports Education is just as important as any other subject and should not be neglected, especially during the confinement time.

I do know that favouring streaming or social media platforms rather than a sports class could be tempting. But, even just for health purposes, it is essential for students to carry on with regular and appropriate exercise.

Physical training teachers, monitored by my team, have been mobilized from the very first day of confinement. They offer all students a weekly exercise program. It is to be practiced as regularly as possible, at a time that suits them best, as a family activity if they wish. The programs are varied and designed to be motivating, renewed every week.

I can only rejoice at the success of this essential element. It ensures a balance, strengthening students’ health and spirit, which is vital in achieving their goals in all subjects taught.

As to the sports associations and clubs, they are free to introduce their own practices for their members. Online coaching and online sports classes refresh the highlights of the season, help them keep in touch and meet various challenges… All this ensures a sports practice continuity in the Principality.

Even the Formula-1 championship carries on with online video games! Charles Leclerc has once again made the Principality proud, in an unprecedented way, by winning the Australian virtual grand prix.

Exclusive Interview: Isabelle Bonnal

HelloMonaco: What scenarios do you envisage for students who struggle with mastering the program?

Isabelle Bonnal: It is a very important question, thank you for asking it.

We remain extremely vigilant as to the follow-up of fragile students, whether they are disabled or have learning disabilities, especially given that most of the therapeutic care is now on hold (speech and occupational therapy, orthoptics etc.).

It must be said that all the staff specialized in various assistance tools are mobilized to help teachers and their students. These are teachers and specialists entirely devoted to students with special educational needs. My team is also on a mission to carry out this kind of monitoring.

As soon as everybody is back to school, the students who are struggling academically will be identified and given special support by each school. And the last but not the least, I will make sure that school leaders and educational teams consider the specific confinement context and demonstrate kindness during the end-of-year class councils.

Our students generally have a good, even a very good level. We have quality teachers. Families are cooperative. All the conditions are now met for us to get through this exceptional situation in the best possible way.

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