FORECASTED CHANGES IN FRANCE’S EDUCATION SYSTEM

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by Becky Emrick
Staff Writer

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).

References

(A) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32792564

(B) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/france-less-work-more-time-off/

(C) http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-teachers-strike-in-france-to-protest-school-reforms-2015-5

(D) http://www.euronews.com/2015/05/19/french-teachers-strike-over-reforms/

(E) http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/05/19/france-politics-education-idINKBN0O400A20150519

(F) http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/sep/08/le-pen-tops-presidential-poll-for-first-time-ever

(G) http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/sep/16/why-learn-a-dead-language

(H) http://www.dw.de/french-teachers-on-strike-to-protest-education-reforms/a-18459914

(I) http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Half-of-Frances-Teachers-Strike-Against-Education-Reforms-20150519-0024.html

(J) http://www.thelocal.fr/20150519/french-teachers-reforms-will-make-it-worse

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HILLARY’S 2016 CANDIDACY: A LONG AWAITED ADDITION IN THE INTERNATIONAL LINE OF FEMALE LEADERS?

HILLARY'S 2016 CANDIDACY: A LONG AWAITED ADDITION IN THE INTERNATIONAL LINE OF FEMALE LEADERS?

By Rebecca Benest
Staff Writer

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially announced her candidacy for president in the 2016 election. While many of her supporters were first alerted over email, she quickly released a YouTube video featuring many American families in all their diversity, culminating in her announcement. “I’m hitting the road to earn your vote because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.” Clinton’s support among the democratic populace is also widespread and strong. A Real Clear Politics poll taken in April reported she held a 50-point lead over Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden, her closest competitors, and according to Sean Spicer of the Republican National Committee, her chances of losing the nomination are as high as his of “getting struck by lighting riding a unicorn”. Hillary’s campaign means we are seriously looking at placing a woman at the head of our nation; electing a woman to that decision-making position signifies a more widespread agreement that gender cannot and should not diminish one’s capabilities. While ultimately it should be the politics of the nation’s ruler that matter above all other factors, a female president in the United States is a big step, and is long overdue.

Her campaign marketing, at least so far, is not particularly aimed at her pull as a female leader, and she seems dedicated to working as hard as necessary toward her goal. In a memo to her campaign, she wrote, “we are humble, we take nothing for granted, we are never afraid to lose, we always outcompete and fight for every vote we can win.” Nevertheless, in a world where women are increasingly crucial to international and domestic politics and peace building, the United States is ranked 79th in terms of women’s political participation. This puts us far behind many countries that we designate as “third world.” In this sense, Hillary Clinton’s election could mean a step forward, adding to a line of women internationally who have made that same step.

Hillary’s election could also mean her addition to the Council of Women World Leaders, an organization of current and former female presidents and prime ministers. Also in that network are several women who have made huge steps in the fight for gender equality. Corazon Aquino, the first female president of the Philippines and in Asia, established a new constitution and congress, broke up national economic monopolies, and was named TIME Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1986. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, fought to change Ireland’s immigration policy and was active in international human rights as the first head of state to visit Somalia after the civil war in 1992 and Rwanda after the genocide in 1994. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president in Liberia and in Africa, brought up the Liberian GDP from $604 million in 2006 to $1.7 billion in 2012; she also received, along with two others, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her work toward gender equality. The newest addition to the Council is Atifete Jahjaga, the first female president of Kosovo and the nation’s youngest president. Since her election in 2011, she established the National Anti-Corruption Council, which is dedicated to female and minority equality. Whether or not their platforms rest on gender equality, their presence and capability in those leadership positions works to expand horizons and opportunities internationally.

It is by no means necessary, however, to run a country in order to make a difference. There are myriad examples of women changing their environments locally. Marisa Ugarte epitomizes this: After experiencing human trafficking in Tijuana, Mexico, working with runaway teens, she founded the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition in 1997. The organization works with agencies on both sides of the US-Mexico border to combat commercial and sexual exploitation of all persons. Working with one person at a time, Ugarte and her organization will make a difference in those lives. She has been recognized for her accomplishments by the International Foundation of Human Rights and former President Bill Clinton, and will be speaking about human trafficking at an event hosted by San Diego’s Ambassadorial Roundtable on May 7th. Ugarte is just one of so many others working to improve conditions in the world around her, and over time it is becoming increasingly possible for other women to do the same. In this sense, support for Hillary Clinton and Marisa Ugarte, both hardworking, intelligent, and capable of shifting their environment, lead to a similar conclusion. Women and men, more and more, are lending their support toward putting more qualified and hardworking women in positions of decision-making power.

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AN INSECURE DEMOCRACY: WHAT NIGERIA STANDS TO LOSE IN ITS NEXT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

In the past year, mainstream news outlets have accentuated Nigeria’s extremist Boko Haram, reporting how the group has kidnapped, bombed and murdered Nigerians to promote their Islamic values. Though the threat that Boko Haram poses is the nation’s foremost security problem, it is only one item of debate between the two presidential candidates. With the election scheduled for February 14, incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and challenger Muhammadu Buhari are pushing their opposing policies, but both are testing the limits of Nigeria’s infant democracy.

Boko Haram formed in 2002 in Nigeria’s northeast, a predominantly Muslim region. Only in 2009 did the group take to widespread violence to make its political statements. Its goals to promote sharia law and “forbid western education” have led to the deaths of around 5,000 Nigerians [1]. Most recently, Boko Haram has taken to large-scale assaults on cities in the northern region of the country, hinting at the growing strength and ambitions of the group.

In spite of the upcoming elections, President Jonathan has taken a less than stern stance on fighting the insurgents. Rather than focusing on boosting military efforts, he has passed off the issue as a regional problem. Though he has promised to rebuild villages razed by Boko Haram, President Jonathan has drawn accusations of posturing from Mr. Buhari. As a former military leader, Mr. Buhari has had no difficulties in gaining popularity with his campaign platform, built upon the promise of eradicating “the first problem of the country.” While Boko Haram has divided Nigeria’s political landscape, it has distracted the nation from working towards sturdier foundations as a developing economy.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, mainly because it is also Africa’s leading oil producer and exporter. Nigeria’s reliance on oil is a prime example of a resource curse; that is, Nigeria has relied on oil for economic growth rather than expand its other industries. Its dependence is particularly relevant now that the increased international supply has forced exporters in Nigeria to lower prices. This has caused the Nigerian Naira to fall to record lows. Though the government is aware of the crippling effect of oil dependence, it is not likely to implement substantial stabilization efforts until the elections are over.

To counteract the resource curse, President Jonathan has announced the necessity of reviving agriculture, an industry that was overshadowed upon the discovery of oil fields. In a recent speech at the 2015 Agriculture Festival, he labeled himself as the “farmers’ president” and went on to say that “agriculture is now the lifeline for Nigeria.” If he is successful in increasing the output and efficiency of Nigeria’s agriculture sector, President Jonathan will be able to aid rural economies and increase the country’s trade potential.

While Jonathan discusses forming a less volatile economy, Buhari aims to increase accountability of those overseeing the economy. Recently, Mr. Buhari announced his goal to eliminate corruption within the Nigerian government. Nigeria has a long history of corruption at all levels of the government, which has typically included skimming government funds or entitling benefits to oil companies in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Mr. Buhari sees corruption as the main obstacle between Nigeria and a strong economy. However, because of such an entrenched pattern of corruption and the nature of campaign promises—President Jonathan has himself been accused of corruption—it is easy to take Mr. Buhari’s goal with a grain of salt.

The upcoming elections carry greater magnitude considering that Nigeria’s democracy is only 16 years old. Because of enduring tension between the Islamic military leaders of the North and the more Christian leaders of the South, the country uses a system called zoning to balance power [2]. Zoning requires that if a president is from the north, the vice president must be from the south, and vice versa. Furthermore, when a president’s term is up, the next president must come from the opposite region. When President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died in 2010, then-vice president Jonathan took over as president [3]. Because he is running for the office, President Jonathan has broken the zoning rule. His blatant disregard for rules, informal or not, brings into question whether or not Jonathan is a truly democratic leader. However, if he wins, he will prove the people’s desire for economic reorganization and reform over the necessity for democratic procedure. If Mr. Buhari is elected, it will stem from his promise of security. His history as a dictator will be proven irrelevant as long as he can provide safety from Boko Haram.

Nigeria needs stability if it is to remain Africa’s most economically powerful nation. This entails fighting back any and all terrorist threats, as well as implementing long-term reforms to diversify the nation’s economy and to reduce corruption. And because Nigeria houses two main contentious regional groups, these stabilizing efforts only carry a guarantee if done under cooperative terms. Both candidates are capable of implementing at least some of the necessary reforms, but if either refrains from acting on democratic terms, Nigeria risks bending to each economic and military threat alike.

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Notes

[1] Sergie, Mohammed A., and Toni Johnson. “Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Ansaru.”Council on Foreign Relations (2014): n. pag. Web.

[2] Campbell, John. “Electoral Violence in Nigeria.” Council on Foreign Relations(2010): n. pag. Web.

[3] Ibid.