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Gilles Uhlrich: At the forefront of education

Researcher portraits Article published on 28 October 2021 , Updated on 09 November 2021

Gilles Uhlrich is a lecturer in education sciences, the director of the Education, Teaching, Training Graduate School (EFE), and manager of the Master 2 Teacher Training for Secondary School Teachers, the Teaching, Education and Training Professions degree (MEEF), Training Practices and Engineering. He is also a member of the Complexity, Innovation, Motor and Sports Activities laboratory (CIAMS – Univ. Paris-Saclay, Univ. d’Orléans). There is no “down time” for this university lecturer and researcher who has a passion for educational issues, is committed to his students and Université Paris-Saclay and who is also a rugby coach.

Gilles Uhlrich grew up in a family environment which encouraged sport. From an early age, he wanted to become a physical education teacher. After the baccalaureate, he took the entrance exam to become a physical education teacher at Université Paris 5 (Lacretelle). He arrived at the Study and Research Unit for Physical Education and Sport (UEREPS) at Université Paris-Sud (which is Université Paris-Saclay today) in September 1981. “This date corresponds exactly with the point at which my professional career in physical and sports technology and educational sciences started at Saclay.”

 

Right on target

Gilles Uhlrich obtained his “Certificat d'aptitude au professorat d'éducation physique et sportive” (CAPEPS or Physical and Sports Education Teacher's Certificate - a diploma needed to teach physical education and sport) and after ten years teaching in a college in Yvelines, he returned to Orsay in 1997. In the process, he swapped the football pitch for the rugby pitch. “Daniel Bouthier, my former teacher at UEREPS, offered me the opportunity to work with rugby students and also to collaborate with the National Federation’s research unit at a time when the construction of the national training centre in Marcoussis, Essonne was under way.” It was in this context that the young teacher passed the “aggregation” (teaching qualification), then defended his thesis in 2005 (in Bordeaux) on research into the psycho-ergonomics of rugby. Four years later, he became a lecturer in Science and Technology of Physical Activity and Sport (STAPS) at Université Paris-Sud. All of his teaching activities today are focused on the MEEF Master’s students at Université Paris-Saclay. 

 

The use of tools in teaching

Gilles Uhlrich works on the challenges of sports education and the use of tools in the learning process at the CIAMS laboratory. These tools are used extensively by teachers, especially those teaching physical education and sport. For example, Gilles Uhlrich is studying the effects of devices used for monitoring rugby games, such as video analysis. 

“It’s the question of the transformations of conceptions that is raised, which is called the ‘instrumental genesis’.”  The university lecturer and researcher is also collaborating with the work psychology laboratory at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (Cnam) and is involved in the Association for Research on Intervention in Sport (ARIS), of which he is vice-president.

 

STAPS - a cornerstone of Université Paris-Saclay

The STAPS department at Université Paris-Saclay is one of the most important in France. It is renowned in particular for its excellent results in CAPEPS, but this is far from being its only avenue. “Sports professions have been diversifying for several years and STAPS offers professional perspectives on management, rehabilitation and training, etc., which the students are gradually discovering,” points out Gilles Uhlrich. This development goes hand in hand with the selection of students in Parcoursup, who also come from increasingly diverse backgrounds, sometimes of a high scientific level, as the university lecturer and researcher has noted. 

 

A group in the making

When the “Écoles supérieures du professorat et de l'éducation” (Higher education institutions or ESPE) were created in 2013, and then the “Instituts nationaux supérieurs du professorat et de l'éducation” (National Institutes for Higher Education or INSPE) in 2019, Gilles Uhlrich acted as the link between Université Paris-Sud and the Versailles Academy and took on various administrative and teaching responsibilities. This involvement naturally led him on to the management of the EFE Graduate School at the start of the 2020/2021 academic year. 

With 1,200 students and 200 teachers, this Graduate School comprises eleven courses and seven Master's degrees supported by the same number of laboratories. “We work across disciplines with colleagues who share a common interest in the teaching aspects of their subject. We’re in the process of mapping them.”  Several events are in its diary for this year. “In December, we’re organising our first research workshop and at the same time starting a series of seminars in collaboration with the Centre of Human Sciences (MSH) Paris-Saclay. We are also planning a research week on education issues next June.” After its postponement due to Covid, the Master's graduation ceremony will also be taking place in March 2022. “Despite  the strong disciplinary identities, it’s clear that a ‘Paris-Saclay’ identity is emerging.”

 

International open-mindedness

The international card played by the MEEF Master is another asset which did not exist before. “Up until 2020, the ‘Certificat d'aptitude au professorat de l'enseignement du second degré’ (CAPES or Secondary school teaching certificate - a diploma needed to teach in secondary schools) competitive professional exam took place at the end of the first year of a Master and the second year was devoted to the work placement,” explains Gilles Uhlrich. “Now, the competitive exam takes place during Master 2, which means a period abroad can take place in Master 1.” All teaching Master courses now benefit from Erasmus programmes or exchanges with partner countries, notably through the EUGLOH network. “Through the Graduate School, we are even thinking of supporting individual initiatives by students who would like to go and see how education sciences are viewed elsewhere,” adds the university lecturer and researcher. “By understanding that their profession will evolve, they are now happy to do things that aren’t immediately useful to their career and no longer hesitate to spend a semester abroad.” Gilles Uhlrich therefore encourages his students to take this approach to research and international open-mindedness, “in order to better understand what’s happening at home”. 

 

Is France out of the game?

In comparison to other countries such as Canada, Switzerland and Belgium, France has long undervalued research on the education profession. “We thought here that education was something which was innate! A few years ago, a colleague of mine studied the school systems of different countries, which had a strong impact on me,” confesses Gilles Uhlrich. “Here, we mainly teach students to keep quiet, while elsewhere they are taught to express themselves in every possible way. In physical education and sport, we are particularly sensitive to this, as it is a ‘moving’ subject with classes that make ‘noise’, as opposed to mathematics for example. Nowadays, we know that people who move their bodies work better.”

Gilles Uhlrich has made this observation a guiding principle of his life. He still trains the young rugby players at RC de Massy-Essonne, which regularly supplies the French team with players (Mathieu Bastareaud, Yacouba Camara, Sekou Macalou and Cameron Woki). “Above all, I’m proud to have supported so many young people in the paths their life has taken them on. They have become champions, sportsmen, teachers and even slam poets (Fabien Marseault, aka Grand Corps Malade, is one of his former students). When we meet years later, we have the same sparkle in our eyes,” says Gilles Uhlrich.