by Becky Emrick
Within the past week, France has seen some major proposed changes and reactions to Minister of Education, Higher Education, and Research, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem’s proposed education reforms in France. For example, “the [French] government wants to reduce teaching of Latin and ancient Greek, scrap an intensive language scheme and change the history curriculum [in middle schools]” in order to improve the quality of the French education system and try to create a more even level playing field for students (A). Instead, the intensive language program is going to be replaced by “a general class on classical culture” (C). France is willing to take extreme actions in order to try and reinvent their education system. This comes somewhat as a surprise because the French are extremely passionate about their education system since “two of the 10 biggest post-war strikes in the country have been over education, in 1984 and 1986” (C).
These changes come from the concerns that the “French education system has slipped down the rankings drawn up by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which says it is one of the least egalitarian in the world” (C). By scraping the old education system, Vallaud-Belkacem and President Hollande hope that the proposed education reforms will close the gap between students going to school “in poorer areas and those in more prosperous parts of the country” (C). Due to the direct correlations with the “pupils’ performance … [and] their parents’ socio-economic background and that children of immigrant parents are more likely to drop out of school” there is a need for France to create an educational system that serves students that come from a migrant background (E). This approach, although innovative, doesn’t speak to a majority of French citizens because teachers and citizens believe that the changes “will simply make things worse for pupils and worse for teachers” by scraping the traditional structure that France has used (J).
There are three main changes that are being proposed to change in the French education system. By imposing these changes France would have, “[phased] out Latin and Greek, to be replaced by an option in ‘languages and cultures of antiquity’, axing a reinforced modern-language programme for gifted 12-year-olds, to be replaced by a generalised second foreign language later on, [and for] 20% of the curriculum to be ‘cross-disciplinary’ modules organised by teachers of more than one subject” (A). Firstly, phasing out Latin and Greek languages completely from French Education could prove to be problematic because “[ancient languages are] threaded almost invisibly through contemporary culture, kept in shape by a combination of tradition and devotion, like good hand-stitching” and furthermore “there are practical reasons for learning an extinct language. It can make acquiring second, third, even fourth languages easier” (G). The second proposed change is meant to give students a more even level playing field by making the education less elitist and teaching students at all levels together. Finally, the last change wherein the curriculum will be organized by teachers of one or more subjects could potentially manifest itself in French teachers working longer hours, as well as the quality being degraded due to multiple subjects being morphed into one which leads many to believe that these proposed reforms will do “students more harm than good” (H).
Although this initiative is headed by the French Minister on Education, a majority of French citizens and teachers are unsupportive of the initiative. As a result “An Odoxa opinion poll last week showed that over 60 percent of French people oppose the reform (E). Because of their disagreements with Vallaud-Belkacem and Hollande over the proposed education reforms, citizens all over France went on strike May 19th to protest these changes. Teachers believe that “the reforms would only serve to increase inequalities and class separation” that France is currently challenged with overcoming (A). French teachers are also intimidated that these new reforms “will increase competition between schools and lead to inequalities” even though the aim of the reforms is to “give schools more choices over what they can teach, promote interdisciplinary learning and combat elitism” (D).
By bringing up this reform and bringing it to a vote, the Socialist Party is putting itself at odds ends by budding themselves against the Labor Unions so close to the 2017 Presidential Election. The Labor Unions, specifically teachers within these Labor Unions, are traditionally a large portion of the vote for the Socialist Party, however they “are largely opposed to the reform, their unions say. In a rare show of unity, seven unions, representing 80 percent of staff, are joining Tuesday’s strike” (E). This comes at a bad time for the Socialists to not have a strong backing so close before the Presidential election, especially since in opinion polls the Front National candidate Marine Le Pen has been coming up on top by about 30% in front of both Hollande and UMP candidate Sarkozy (F). This coupled with Hollande continuously degrading approval ratings, makes for a bad outcome for the Socialist Party in the 2017 Presidential Election.
Although the timing of these reforms aren’t ideal for the Socialist Party so close to the 2017 Presidential Election, making within the current Hollande administration including Hollande himself and Vallaud-Belkacem believe that “the reform is essential” because of the pressing need to “change an education system that reinforces inequalities. We want to improve everyone’s level across the board” (H). Despite many French citizens disbelief and discontent the reforms are pushed go to vote in September 2016 (I).
Photo By: Parti Socialiste