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Fazed by school reform in France

| August 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

French teachers took to the streets in May this year to protest government proposals.

The French government decided to take urgent steps after it emerged that France is one of the countries where a pupil’s social background is one of the strongest predictors of their subsequent achievement. This fact was detailed in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

It’s not new news, says commentator Colette Davison. “Children of politicians and business leaders fill the seats of the country’s most prestigious schools with the most competent teachers and, eventually, enter into the country’s top companies and political circles. Meanwhile, kids in the more disenfranchised, outlying suburbs – often children of immigrants with no French at home – are taught by young, inexperienced teachers and find their choices for top schooling limited.”

New education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem says that the government’s proposed reforms, which could come into effect by September 2016, are an attempt to create more equality in the French school system.

Under the current system, Vallaud-Belkacem says, secondlanguage learning is only available to a handful of gifted students. Under the revised system, all students would take a second language.

Vallaud-Belkacem also recognises that the French school system – with its desks lined up in a row, and focuses on lecture and memorisation – can be incredibly dull.

She has asked the Conseil supérieur des programmes, which determines the national curriculum, to radically re-vision what French children will study in school. A proposed history module for Grade 7, entitled ‘Islam: Emergence, Growth, Society and Cultures, already has critics hot under the collar.

Vallaud-Belkacem is also in favour of giving more autonomy to school principals, to enable them not only to craft creative timetables but also to allocate teaching hours to various subject areas and to encourage teachers to foster new collaborative and modular approaches to learning. Teachers have rejected the idea, saying that it will reduce the number of hours of fundamental teaching, thereby diluting core subjects and principles.

French teachers’ unions are famous for opposing change in schools. Albert-Jean Mougin, national vice president of the Syndicat national des lycees et colleges (SNALC) teacher’s union, says that giving schools the choice of how they teach will create differences in the education students receive across the system.

“We’re going to see inequality among schools even in the same neighbourhood,” says Mougin.

Category: Spring 2015

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