Every two years, the Jacobs Foundation awards the Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prizes to trailblazers seeking evidence-based solutions to education’s biggest challenges. In this series, Annie Brookman-Byrne meets with the finalists of the 2022 awards. In part 10, Annie talks with Thomas Villemonteix and Liem-Binh Luong of 1001mots in France.
Annie Brookman-Byrne: What are the biggest challenges for education in France?
Thomas Villemonteix: France’s education system is struggling to address social inequalities, which begin in early childhood. France lags far behind in setting up a system to study, detect, prevent, and mitigate academic or psychological difficulties in young children, both before and after school entry. Parental support interventions and childcare centres are key tools for promoting school readiness and improving children’s psychological well-being. Families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and with limited resources should have free access to such supports.
“Parental support interventions and childcare centres are key tools for promoting school readiness and improving children’s psychological well-being.”
ABB: What needs to be done to help children in underprivileged families?
Liem-Binh Luong: In France, several solutions are needed to guarantee a promising future for children from underprivileged families. We advocate for the most important: We need more preschools at the national level, and should prioritise new facilities in the most deprived areas and neighbourhoods. This must be accompanied by increased investment in the training and remuneration of professionals working in the early childhood sector. In addition, we should ensure that vulnerable children in the most disadvantaged areas have access to childcare facilities that focus on language stimulation.
“We need more preschools at the national level, and should prioritise new facilities in the most deprived areas and neighbourhoods.”
ABB: What is your vision for the future of education in France?
TV: In France, 20% of children have not mastered basic skills by the time they leave primary school, according to the Ministry of Education. Every year, 100,000 pupils leave the school system without a diploma. We need to invest in education starting in early childhood, which is a key period for developing the ability to learn. I want to see improved and diversified care for young children, along with support for parents during this important and special period.
We advocate for scientific research as an important ally in the development of innovative solutions to support parents and children. Priority should be given to evidence-based programmes for parents that provide stimulating activities to promote early childhood development. This is what 1001mots offers with our parenting programme, which is based on scientific research and evidence of impact.
LBL: We want to ensure that all children enjoy a rich language environment prior to kindergarten (which begins at age 3), so that fewer children start school with poor language skills. We believe that this will lead to educational success and better employment and health outcomes.
To that end, we provide distance support to parents with children up to age three in low-income regions in France. We combine an evidence-based approach to behavioural change with rigorous scientific evaluation, product research, and product development methods. Our programme is tailored to deprived families, and consists of one-semester cycles of support that can be extended at the parent’s request. Parents receive three messages via SMS or MMS per week, as well as an age-appropriate book and a phone call from a speech therapist every two months.
TV: After four years, we are already seeing good results. In 2022 alone, we reached 4,000 children. When their paediatrician suggests that they join a programme, 95% of parents agree to do so, and around 60% sign up for a second round of support. We’re really happy that 80% of parents report that the programme has been useful. We’ve also seen positive results, especially from our last trial: We found that after just 4 months, parents of children under 1 were reading to their children 3 times as often each week and owned more books.
ABB: What have you learned from another Best Practice Prize finalist?
LBL: At 1001mots, we see the significant impact that advocacy has on society by calling attention to important causes, creating synergies, and achieving progress. We have been inspired by VVOB‘s efforts and its engagement with key actors in the field of education policy. VVOB is an international non-profit that engages in long-term partnerships with national governments. It works closely with organisations and agencies that support the professional development of teachers and school leaders. We hope to develop similar partnerships in France in the near future, with the goal of advocating effectively for early childhood issues.