Educational Challenges in France

Whereas French education is prima facie accessible to everyone, as it is free from the start up until higher education, French people claim the French educational system knows many obstacles. I have interviewed French people who are still in the French educational system, both private and public, and some who ended a long time ago, hoping to test the relevance of the claims.

The most recurring obstacle that was mentioned was the teachers’ status. Teachers are underpaid and undervalued. In turn, their quality of teaching is criticised for being short-fused and unilateral. Many individuals with a French education felt they had to follow teachers’ expectations perfectly and had no space for individuality or originality. Specifically, mental health is overlooked as students must work for long hours. In the same vein, there is no psychological support or general encouragement as the French system is competition-based, and success is wholly put out to be the student’s responsibility. Rather than being encouraged once having reached a passing level, students are criticised for not being better.

Concurrently, there is no understanding of tiredness, poor mental health, or mental disorders, as students are not expected to ask for help and are turned down when they do. One interviewee explained:

two young girls sitting at a table with markers and crayons

Photo by Alan Rodriguez on Unsplash

When I was depressed and exhausted because of the long hours, teachers would get angry when I fell asleep in their class. I was given seven hours of detention because the teacher felt insulted. Nobody listened when I said I needed those hours to revise and sleep.”

Indeed, teaching is not centred around pupils. Instead, it is built on a hierarchical system.

One student in public education also explained they were never mentored or told about future options i.e., what programme to choose to get into which job or abroad opportunities. Each of his decisions was dependent entirely on his own research.

Notably, there was a clear difference in answers with students from public and private education, as privately educated children expressed overall higher satisfaction. This divide is well known to give different chances to children, depending on their socio-economic backgrounds. Accordingly, a systemic reform is needed in order to give public school teachers better chances of successfully conducting their job. This example of respect for the profession from the government is likely to be reflected in children’s behaviour as and woman sitting on chairs

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

This unilateral format is reflected in French school programs, whereby up until 2021[1] merely offered three main paths: Literature, Economics or Maths and Science. Only those three theory-based qualifications have been considered worthy. For people who do not fit this programmatic structure, turning towards a more practical-based, closer to work diploma will be judged negatively and as sub-standard. Indeed, French schools are low in the European and world assessment compared to other countries that give children more vocational classes.[2] Most notably, this programmatic structure can be predicted to be especially challenging for neurodivergent individuals. However, the recent change in ‘baccalauréat’ is

closer to an ‘à la carte’ selection and allows more freedom in the building of courses; hopefully minimising these critics.

Notably, the world report identified disability rights in education as the main issue in 2022.[3] Indeed, French integration rules for disabled children in education have been known for being largely confusing and disappointing, leaving parents unsupported. There is still progress to be made as integration in itself is not enough. For example, one interviewee recalled that some friends, parents of children with disabilities, regretted the lack of personnel in school to assist and protect their kids from bullying.

Additionally, we can note the recent (2021) ban on Muslim veils for minors in schools, as well as accompanying parents. This updated ban follows older restrictions that have been wholly criticised as Islamophobic.[4] Indeed, this ban puts a disproportionate weight on Muslim girls attending school, compared to other children.

boy in gray sweater beside boy in gray and white plaid dress shirtPhoto by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Most recently, French teachers have held one of the biggest education strikes in protest of the government’s handling of Covid-19 measures in the educational sector. Reflecting on the

aforementioned point on the inaccurate treatment of teachers; they complain about not being consulted in government decisions; being told to change their courses at the very last minute; being expected to conduct hybrid courses without support and not being replaced in case they fall ill. Ultimately, this instability is largely disrupting children’s education.[5]

Maya Shaw


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