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Thursday, 04 June 2009

News from the French press

France's secondary school reform controversial

From L'Humanité, 3 June 2009

Former Minister of Education Jack Lang has recently conferred upon current President of the French Republic Nicholas Sarkozy his suggestion of secondary school reform. After spending several months consulting high school students, teachers, and social partners, Lang’s conclusions highlight the necessity to “correct what doesn’t work” and “preserve what does.” His nation-wide tour took him to 80 schools in 76 different districts.

His objective: nullify the reforms instituted by current Minister of Education Xavier Darcos in April 2008. Said reforms were quickly abandoned after the riots and protests in Athens, Greece in December 2008 led by “the 600-euro” generation, that is to say high school and college age students whose entry-level jobs pay around 600 euros. The reason: Darcos was made to serve under the administration of a leftist president, one with strong ties to national education, and one who increased educational budget restrictions. Seeing these attempted reforms stagnate, and Darcos quietly back down, Richard Descoings became heavily involved in the debate over secondary school education as of January 12, 2009. With his assessment as director of the Paris Institute for Political Studies and his hands-on education experience as a résumé, Descoings provided his opinion on the current education system and possible solutions.

According to Descoings, Lang, and the others who visited high schools across the nation, the largest problem worries both students and parents: inequality of path of study. Each French high school student must choose in their first year what path of study they would like to take, or which one suits them best according to their future goals and current abilities. The three "specializations" are science, economics and social sciences, and literature, each culminating in an extremely difficult final exam that, once passed, results in conference of the diploma necessary for further study: the baccalauréat. However, there exists a continuous dichotomy between the science degree, which is highly regarded and is seen as having enormous job opportunities, and the literary degree, which is described as "garbage." While the science degree is impressive, focusing on mathematics and chemical sciences, the literary degree offers no less difficulty, focusing on literature, philosophy, history, and heavily on foreign languages. The third degree, economics and social sciences, is well-balanced in its course of study.

The science degree, or "le bac S," is chosen by over 50% of secondary school students. Contrarily, the literary degree, or "le bac L," is chosen by only 17% of students, usually by default (as they did not have the grades required to be accepted into one of the "better" degree programs). Such stereotypes create inequality among students, and are detrimental to not only students' daily social interactions but also to possible future job opportunities, as employers heavily weigh which degree is held by a student and prefer "le bac S" even for non-science related positions. Therefore, secondary school reform has become a question of equalizing the degrees.

A symbolic (though soon to be implemented) conclusion resides in language; Descoings has suggested that a very high level of English language proficiency be required of each and every French student. Why? This would equalize students from all degrees, theoretically, in adapting to a new and globalized world, where the English language rules without question, most notably in the financial sector. In order to remedy the lagging French foreign language program, he advises a permanent doubling-up of foreign language classes, with the future possibility of foreign exchange programs. This would perhaps lead to a fourth type of degree that would be completely on par with the science degree, entitled "languages and civilizations."

The above measures are in place to be implemented for the 2010 academic year. Richard Descoings suggests a "negotiation with education administrators on the nature of their mission and the worth of their service." He already anticipates the outcry and collective protestation from the world of education. "The compensation that we will have to give them will be, in time, mitigated by the reduction in the number of hours/students," he adds soberly, before finishing by affirming that these measures are not a "reform," but a "re-foundation."

Member of the National Assembly of France Benoist Apparu has suggested that in order to prepare for the coming changes in the curriculum, certain classes should be offered in the summer. Perhaps for the 52% of the French who are not going on vacation this summer?

Written by Jérémy Collado

Edited and translated by Dara Kagan
Posted in Miscellaneous by dk at 11:46 AMPermalink

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