Education in France
Education in France is known globally as both competitive and exceptional when it comes to giving students a quality learning experience. This is because the French government and the French people understand the importance of education, thus they continue to provide substantial money towards their education systems. Though the French continuously values their education, issues such as failing to help students and an archaic university system are weighing down the quality of education in France.

For French children, education in France begins in kindergarten (maternelle) at an incredibly young age. Fifty-two percent of French children are enrolled in kindergarten at age 2 while 100 percent of children begin kindergarten at age 3. However, elementary school is only compulsory for children at the age of 6.

French primary schools are notorious for long school hours while simultaneously having fewer school days. It is estimated that French children spend approximately 900 hours a year in school which is more than any other European nation. Since vacation days are a national value in France, French school make up for lost time with additional school hours.

At 16, secondary education is not compulsory and French kids can decide whether to continue their education or leave and join the workforce.

French high school (lycée) or also known as secondary education, is for French children 16 years or older. During their time in high school, French children are not only taking their mandatory classes but are simultaneously studying for the Baccalauréat or Bac. The Bac is a final exam that qualifies students for university studies.

The Bac takes a total of six days to complete and unlike many exams, the Bac does not contain any multiple choice questions. Rather, the Bac tests oral and written proficiency in multiple subjects. Reports indicate that fewer than 20 percent of all students fail the Bac.

Despite the complexity of the Bac, almost all citizens are prideful of the Bac and refuse to modify it. During the month of June, newspapers and periodicals are teeming with discussions about the Bac. Many intellectuals in the country even discuss the Bac in relation to subjects such as literature and philosophy.

After high school, education in France is divided into a dual system of Universités and Grandes Ecoles. Universités in France are globally known to be exceptionally diverse and inclusive. Over 12 percent of the student population in Universités are foreign students. Additionally, any student who passes the Bac is already admitted to any university in the country. Currently, France has around 84 universités with free tuition for students.

In France, Grandes Ecoles are considered separate from the overall university system. This is because Grandes Ecoles are specialty schools for careers in mainly science and business. Grandes Ecoles try to provide a simulation of the job market which universités simply cannot do.

In France, there are about 250 Grandes Ecoles with each being relatively free, substantially funded and well adapted to the current job market.

However, Grandes Ecoles are immensely selective which makes entering any Grandes Ecoles fiercely competitive amongst pupils.

Though France provides a well-rounded education for its citizens, issues such as failing to help students and an outdated university system continue to detriment the overall quality of education in France.

Education in France has slowly drifted away from providing aid to children to neglecting the overall wellbeing of children. In French high schools, teachers are only present to teach their classes and then they leave. Teachers with office hours are almost non-existent which further alienates the instructors from their classes. As a result, it is often recorded that teachers tell students that they are zeroes (nuls).

A quote from one of the authors of “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong”, Jean-Benoit Nadeau states that “An outstanding feature of French education is the authority of teachers. The French don’t regard childhood as an age of innocence but see it as an age of ignorance. Children must be set straight and corrected.”

This type of psychological abuse has many psychologists linking this emotional mistreatment from school to child development. Child defenders that deal with already abused and battered children even claim that this emotional abuse can further detriment childhood development.

Education in France is also suffering due to an archaic université system. Universités in France are slowly losing the prestige that they once had due to competition from U.S. universities. The reasoning behind this loss of prestige stems from the fact that unlike U.S. colleges, French universités do not make connections to the job market and inadequately prepares students for life after school.

As a result, less funding is being placed in the French university systems. A reduced amount of funding has led to overcrowding and a 50 percent dropout rate in the first two years of university studies.

Furthermore, universities in France are on a sharp decline as students attending Grandes Ecoles are gradually increasing.

The French government is steadily improving education in France through a set of reforms. In 2008, new legislation allowed universities to become autonomous. By allowing universities to become autonomous, these schools now have the ability to control more of the budgets and finances of their institutions. Increased budgetary autonomy has positively impacted the flexibility to raise donations through private investors as well as appoint professors as they see fit.

Not to mention, the French government is also encouraging universités to form joint structures. Joint structures allow universités to merge amongst themselves as well as with Grandes Ecoles. Joint structures are theoretically going to reverse the lost prestige of French universities as well as attract prospective foreign students.

French Minister of National Education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has commented on France’s recent education reforms as moving in the right direction with further efforts on reducing inequalities and school failure rates.

Without debate, the French education system is a unique and engaging system that provides a satisfactory education for its citizens. Yet, obstacles such as child mistreatment and a revamped university system are serious obstacles that need to be overcome in order to better advance the quality of education in France.

Shannon Coble

Photo: Flickr