Speeches by Mr David Binan and Mr Christian Soulard
Speech by IFS Principal David Binan
Mme. First Counsellor
Mme. Counsellor for Cooperation and Cultural Action
Representatives of the AEFE
Ladies and Gentlemen, Representatives of the French abroad,
Ladies and Gentlemen, representatives of the IFS school community and the French educational community in Singapore,
Last weekend, while writing the preface to the IFS Yearbook of the year, one word echoed in my mind for this evening, and don’t take it as arrogance or malice on my part; it’s the word “exploit”. Who could have imagined the personal and professional life path that brings a man like me to speak before you tonight, a man from a Picardy village of barely a hundred souls, the son of simple farmers. Even if this village, which you drive through in a minute, bears the pretentious name of Lempire, who would have predicted it: certainly not me.
And yet. As for many of us, I owe this path to the people who educated me, to my parents who did not prevent me from going to the public high school after the unique school instituted at my entry in the 6th grade – the first reform of the national education system that I experienced – to be the first one of the family to get the baccalaureate, and this while making me discover and participate in their trying and, in their eyes, less and less gratifying agricultural activities, activities which they did not want me to take over.
To them, I will associate my paternal grandmother who lived just next door, who welcomed me as a child in the evening, and who, after listening to me read aloud my French history textbook filled with images of Epinal, would sometimes tell me, with the help of old photos, the always sad stories of the family and the village, such as the one of the journey she made, with her mother, to Verdun in 1919, to go and retrieve the remains of their father and husband, the first member of the family to be decorated with the Croix de Guerre. I am the second in the family to be decorated with palms, one of which was initially an olive branch.
I owe my formation to places: the little woods of my childhood village, Auschwitz, Ephesus, Istanbul, Tripoli, Leptis Magna; the Valloires Abbey in Picardie Maritime, which I visited for three summers as a guide and where, above all, I listened for a long time and discussed with women who gave their lives in the service of heritage and others.
I owe my sensitivity to the music of Bach, Handel, Mozart’s Requiem Mass, Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, Fayruz, Joan Baez’s “Here’s to you” or Brel’s song of the old lovers.
My path was also made up of encounters with people who marked and inspired me: my teachers, whose names I remember, from Mme Boniface in GS to Daniel Toussaint, my history and geography teacher in 10th and 12th grade; Mme Elisabeth Magnou Nortier, my master’s degree supervisor in medieval history, who transformed herself when she recounted the battle of Vouillé between Clovis and the Visigoths like a cavalry charge in John Wayne’s Westerns; Mrs Germaine Loiseau, sister and aunt of the mayors of my village, a former teacher and great friend of my grandmother with whom she exchanged information on what you can imagine every Sunday afternoon, who devoted to the middle school student that I was during the summer holidays, one hour a week, having the vain merit of inculcating the rule of three in me, with the help of old arithmetic manuals from the 1950s with statements that were, for me, sibylline.
Mr Florent, my teacher of letters and Latin in khâgne, who was top of his class, gently tortured us by making us read ‘little Latin’ but whose explanation of Proust’s madeleine was a revelation.
The students undeniably played a role, students that I had in France and elsewhere, in colleges, high schools, vocational schools, and French institutes, students who gave me the satisfaction tinged with pride of feeling useful, of being useful at times to someone, when I passed on knowledge, know-how, know-how, when I opened their eyes and hearts. My madeleine of the day is the memory that I often relate – I have indeed already told it to some of you – a memory of this session with the 1st year of vocational training in commerce: the study of the first meeting between Frédéric Moreau and Mme Arnoux in Flaubert’s Education sentimentale or how to work on the point of view by recontextualising this meeting in today’s world. I was not disappointed with their rendition; by using the myth of the cougar woman or their sexual fantasies, they had thus appropriated this page of literature by suddenly understanding the interest in studying texts from other ages.
Finally, in my current job, I often remember the recommendation of an experienced headmistress, then head of one of the largest school complexes in the academy, who regularly calmed the ardour of women and men, including myself, aspiring to the position of head of school and eager for authority: “The head of school has only one power – she said – that of convincing”, and that is not won.
I speak to you this evening with great affection and a deep sense of gratitude. I am grateful to the people I have met, will meet and work with. I am thankful for the trust placed in me by the Agence pour l’Enseignement Français à l’Etranger, the cultural advisors and ambassadors, Mr Chaumuzeau and Mr Abensour, Mr Boris Toucas and Mr Jean Pierre Thébault, respectively cultural advisor and French ambassador to Australia, to whom I owe this decoration, you, Mrs Denis Blanchardon, First Counsellor, Mrs Baneth-Nouailhetas, to whom I owe this decoration.
I am grateful to our French Republic, the values it has transmitted to me, those who have fought and are fighting for it, and the help I have received, without which I would not have arrived here.
My last thanks will go to the most beautiful part of me, my wife, Ilham, my inspiration and my driving force, passionate and committed to everything she does, a wife who has transformed me, made me discover other horizons, inspired me with the call of the foreigner and with whom I have been travelling and discovering the world for more than 25 years. Thank you to her and our daughter, who has brightened our lives for more than 21 years, for their resilience, understanding and support at every moment.
My final gratitude goes to my parents-in-law, who entrusted me with their daughter, opened their door and heart, and welcomed me as their second son.
If, in such circumstances, it is customary to thank – and I did so with great pleasure – you have found that it was unavoidable to talk about oneself, even if my nature does not lead me to seek honours. The simple fact of talking to you about myself may seem incongruous.
The Palmes académiques are certainly an individual decoration. Still, nevertheless, I want to share it with all of you this evening, with the deserving, those who commit themselves to a cause. Because commitment marks a conviction, a will, and simply respect for others. All of us who are here are committed to the service of knowledge and its transmission.
Today, as I approach 60, I have some clear ideas. I have learned the value of time, effort and patience; I know that the important thing is to create, to act. “The important thing is what remains to be done”; we have to say it to make known and transmit our values. Let’s communicate: let’s put together what we are! Let’s be proud of it, but let’s be humble, open, listening to those who don’t have this chance.
As King Creon says to Antigone in Anouilh’s play of the same name, “You have to sweat and roll up your sleeves, grab life with your hands and get up to your elbows in it” while being content with modest joys: “Life is a book that you love, a child who plays at your feet, a tool that you hold in your hand, a bench to rest on in the evening in front of your house. It is a derisory consolation of growing old; life is perhaps only happiness.
Speech by former IFS Principal Christian Soulard
Mme Ambassador, First Counsellor, Dear Anne,
Thank you, Mme Ambassador, for your words on this occasion. They honour and touch me. I want to add my thanks to Mr Abensour, under whose authority I have spent these four years in Singapore.
It is a great pleasure to be with all of you this evening after the long months of COVID that have kept us in isolation. I know, everyone has a busy schedule, so thank you for taking the time to be here.
Since I landed at Singapore, my head has been plunged back into the crisis we have been going through. I am thinking about the functioning of our three entities, the Embassy, IFS (with its Management Committee and its crisis unit) and the Executive Council.
I want to emphasise the teamwork that was the rule during this tormented period. The team at the Embassy. For the help and the close collaboration under the leadership of the Ambassador. I salute his listening and his unfailing and permanent support in the context of the anguish and incredible frustration of the community. Thank you to Anne and Anthony, with whom I have worked for many years.
On the IFS side, I still remember those meetings at an almost daily stage, sometimes on Sunday afternoons. This period was emotionally intense, but our will to remain united in the face of the frustration, sometimes the anger – muted or expressed – of some and others enabled us to respect our commitment to our students and to ensure the continuity of their learning—a big thank you to all.
And then the reactivity, the sincere and constructive discussions with the third vertex of the triangle that I mentioned, the executive board. All this for efficient, transparent and accepted communication with parents and staff. Thank you, Jean-Marc and your team.
In a crisis situation, institutions reveal their true nature. Undoubtedly, we have demonstrated the robustness, coherence and effectiveness of IFS.
On a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to the AEFE, which has given me an extraordinary individual and professional adventure. French-style international education has its place in the globalised world of education. I am proud to have made a modest contribution to it.
All these years, my wife Keren has supported me. The life of a Head of School can be exhilarating and exciting but also sometimes stressful and complicated. Thank you, Keren.
Mme Ambassador, this ceremony is dedicated to education, so allow me to offer some topical reflections on students and learning.
In an environment of exponential and uncontrolled growth of digital technology and social networks, we are witnessing a new form of attack, that of our brains. And our pupils’ brains are a prime target: to be considered by some, I dare say, as modelling clay to be manipulated according to events.
Suddenly, the boundaries between truth and lies, facts and beliefs, become blurred. A watchword, a slogan, is offered as a solution to all problems. No more analysis of complexity; everything is so simple, “believe me, follow me!”
And the ideological objectives of some are easily matched by the commercial objectives of others.
This is something to consider when we think about what we want to teach our students. Especially since a new player has just entered the scene: artificial intelligence and its CHATGPT software.
Not only does the computer know – it has the equivalent of 750,000 times the Bible in its memory – but it organises the answer to your question in a clean, clear and structured language. The software writes your essay for you. Academics are bluffed, teachers are worried, the world of education is wondering about modes of assessment and certification, etc.
To know, or to learn, we must ask ourselves.
Philippe Meirieu, a well-known pedagogue, analyses, and I quote: “The robot reverses the meaning of the pedagogical relationship… It fulfils the desire to know and kills the desire to learn. It gives immediate objective answers and thus abolishes the dynamics of questioning. It produces certainties that encyst thought… The very opposite of what the teacher is supposed to do: to raise questions to free up prejudices.“
In this time of brainwashing, of too much knowledge, of slogans for simplistic solutions, the pedagogue Fernand Oury tells us: “It is time to give today’s children what they lack most: the unknown“. A paradox! The sensation of “the unknown” is what motivates the desire to learn. It requires the art of questioning, the art of asking the right questions. And the master in this respect is the teacher.
My last word is addressed to them as a tribute to this profession I have had the great pleasure of practising.
Mme Ambassador, thank you again for receiving us this evening and for allowing us this moment.