School trips to Apple Stores banned by ministry

School trips to Apple Stores have been banned by the education ministry, after a furore over claims they were exploiting children for commercial gain.

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Under education minister Paul Vannier, the ministry has banned all future visits to the tech giant shops, saying that they contravene the “principle of public service neutrality”, reported weekly news source, Marianne.

The US brand had been welcoming school trips regularly across France.

Teachers could sign up online by choosing their nearest store (of 20 in the country), selecting how many children there would be, and stating the technology already being used in the classroom.

The official idea was to help children with coding and technology skills, as well as teach them how to make podcasts or improve their computer skills.

Outings were also touted as helping children to develop their “imagination and team building skills” in an “apprenticeship” atmosphere, that would allow them to learn “practical ways” to “use Apple products to invoke their imagination”, the French-language Apple website said.

Yet, undercover reporting by news outlet France 2 showed that children were more often being received in the Stores as normal clients, and were even given Apple-branded T-shirts and USB sticks at the end of the visit.

One of the instructors anonymously said: “It is great publicity for us. If it could spark some sales of iPads for use in the classrooms, then why not? It’s a great display window for our products.”

Parents and children were also asked to sign a waiver, allowing photos or films of their visit to be used in subsequent promotional materials. Critics have said this has wrongly transformed a school trip into a commercial venture.

One outspoken parent and critic was Céline Largier Vié, language lecturer at the Sorbonne Nouvelle university in Paris.

Writing on Twitter, she said that she had objected to her son going on a school trip to the Apple Store, but that neither the teacher nor the headmaster had initially seen any problem with it, when she complained.

Two days later, she confirmed that the trip had been cancelled, ostensibly because “the school recognised that it was not suitable for a school activity to take place in a commercial site”.

Yet, Ms Largier Vié added, part of the reason for the cancellation was also because “these school trips had been too present in the press, and there had been too much fuss around them”.

Opposition to the school trips has been growing since April this year, but as far back as 2016, a national education inspector, Paul Devin, had tried to alert people to the Apple Store problem on his blog.

He wrote: “Teachers who agree to these trips are allowing Apple to use a public service for specific commercial gain.”

Speaking to Marianne this week, he added: “Apple is not welcoming children as an act of charity. School is not the place to become part of a company’s commercial strategy!”

Yet, in 2016, the trips were not banned, as then-minister for education, Najat Vallaud Belkacem, said that teachers should have “educational freedom” and that we should “trust them”.

Now, her successor Mr Vannier has officially banned such trips across the country, including other similar ventures by other technological companies.

Also included in the ban are the “immersive classroom” experiences that had been offered to children from CE1 to 3eme by rival computer company Microsoft.

An audit of all similar business-to-education partnerships is now set to be carried out, said Mr Vannier.

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