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

Photo By: Parti Socialiste

WORLD MEDLEY: VIEWS THROUGH A LENS

By Rachel Ger
Contributing Writer

This is the fifth and final article in our 2015 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s presentation of the beautiful photography and travel accounts of UC San Diego students. Click on the images in the article to view the photos up close.

Kolkata street scene

A snapshot of the juxtaposition of two different generations in the streets of Kolkata, India. The bright colors of the faded paint on the walls don’t do much to shroud the fact that these slums are backed wall-to-wall by tall, luxurious buildings where the rich live and play – with the impoverished right on their doorstep. But somehow, in this moment, all of that doesn’t matter. This grandfather and grandchild have far more important things to think about right now, such as “what game should we play right now?” and “what memories are we going to make today?”

“We’re All Just People” at Centre Pompidou in Paris, France

My favorite part of this museum of modern art wasn’t the exhibits themselves (although they were extraordinary); it was the people-watching I got to do on the escalators between floors and on the landings of each plexiglass surrounded level. Each person or couple was so absorbed in their own little world – napping, lunching, even people-watching themselves, with a pair of eyes, unbeknownst to them, observing from above. There’s a certain sense of peace that comes with being allowed to peek into someone else’s life, a stranger whose world only collides with yours in this encounter and then continues on, completely unrelated to you beyond a moment of accidental eye-contact or a brief “excuse me” or “where did you get your top?”

Nighttime in the City of Lights - Paris, France

Nighttime in the City of Lights – Paris, France

Our long walk back to our Airbnb after each adventure-packed day always became a little tedious. We were all tired, hungry, and not looking forward to returning to the slightly sketchy area we were staying in. Always too tired to engage in the nightlife, on this night the nightlife came to us – we were met with lovely street music, lively youths, bright lights; reviving and energizing us and reminding us of all the little treasures this beautiful city has to offer.

A peek down a nondescript alley met by wary eyes in Kolkata, India

A peek down a nondescript alley met by wary eyes in Kolkata, India

A day in Kolkata seems to stretch for hours on end, punctuated by the hottest, most humid climate I have ever experienced in my life. Night comes as a brief relief to the excruciating heat that causes sweat to pour down our bodies during the day and makes us drowsy and sluggish. Revived by the coolness of the night air, we went for a nighttime walk around the dusty, bustling streets, filled with the sounds of socializing and loud vehicle horns protesting the packed dirt streets. I stepped away from the group for a moment to see what lay behind this corner, and was surprised to find that I wasn’t alone – I seem to have intruded on this little boy’s preparation for a sneaky night of great adventure and excitement.

Beautiful coastal town of Amalfi

A winter day feels just like summer in the beautiful coastal town of Amalfi in Italy. After waking up at the crack of dawn to take the long train from Naples to Sorrento in order to make it on time to catch one of the last three buses running to Amalfi for that period of time (there had been floods because of the rain the week before, and part of the road had collapsed… just in time to complicate our travel plans!). Speeding around the craggy cliffs of the Italian Riviera stopping every which way to pick up locals and slowing down to allow vehicles coming from the other end of this one-lane road pass, we finally arrived at Amalfi hours after we set out from our hostel. But all the hours of travel and transportation complications were worth it when met by the sight of this beautiful little beach town and the warmth of the Italian locals. The Amalfi Coast in every bend and curve possesses the kind of unparalleled beauty that can’t be adequately captured on camera.

 Impending rainstorm on Christmas Eve

Impending rainstorm on Christmas Eve – adventure in rural Italy

Our nonexistent knowledge of the Italian language paired with our inability to navigate tiny provincial streets inevitably and unsurprisingly stopped our quest to find the route to the famous
Sentiero degli dei (the Path of the Gods) right in its tracks. Without a single shop open on Christmas Eve and dead silent streets, it took the sight of these orange-brown clay topped white houses to help us keep our cool. It all turned out fine in the end and we got to where we needed to
be perfectly on time – and now we’ll always have a story that’s one for the books.

All images by Rachel Ger, Prospect Contributing Writer

BLOG: DE LA DÉMOCRATIE EN AMÉRIQUE: EXPLAINING AMERICAN POLITICS TO A FRENCH CITIZEN

By Joe Armenta and Sophie Desvignes
Senior Editor and Staff Writer

The idea that all politics is local is something that has recently consumed my life. In September, I joined the Nathan Fletcher for Mayor campaign and spent the next three months tirelessly campaigning for a man that I thought would become the next leader of San Diego. Somewhere amid the 12-hour days, the countless phone calls, the negative hit pieces and agitated voters that slammed doors in my face; the electoral process seemed to become remarkably clear. Then I met Sophie Desvignes.

Sophie is a French international student at UCSD and fellow staff-writer here at Prospect Journal. Since joining the team, she and I have continuously discussed the wild and wacky nature of the American political system through the lens of San Diego’s special mayoral election. While these conversations often end in some combination of bewilderment and shame, they have also revealed much about the American voter and how political campaigns function. This joint article will replicate these conversations by highlighting the differences between the French and American political systems.

Joe: I heard that politicians in France don’t talk about their personal life. Is that true?

Sophie: I would not say their private life is completely concealed, but their campaign does not rest on it. When politicians do talk about their personal life, they tend to be immediately reproached with demagoguery. This was the case for Nicolas Sarkozy when he became president in 2008. He lost credibility when pictures and video of him running with Ray Ban sunglasses surrounded by his bodyguards emerged. The press immediately found him a nickname: the “bling-bling” president. Aware of the controversies it raised, Nicolas Sarkozy quickly changed his communication strategy to fit the expectations of French people when it comes to a politician’s private life by keeping his personal affairs out of the public spotlight. For most French politicians, the absence of communication about their private life is part of an accepted political norm.

Joe: That’s strange. In American politics, one of the first thing that a candidate does is to create a narrative about how he got to where he is by talking about his personal upbringing. One of the first things that we campaigned on was the fact that Nathan Fletcher was a Marine Corps veteran, father of two boys and a local businessman. Our literature that we handed out included pictures of him surrounded by his family at a park, and he would regularly post pictures of his kids on his Facebook page. We did this because Americans like to relate to the candidate on a personal level. Voters want to feel as if the personal they’re electing is similar to them. They are turned off by candidates that they feel are too bureaucratic or are deemed to be ‘career politicians.’

Sophie: It tends to be the same in France. People need to identify with the candidate that they are going to elect. However, the type of personal information you describe are rarely provided by the candidate themselves but by the media. The current municipal campaign illustrates that. For example, Nathalie Kosciusco Morizet, the right wing candidate running for mayor in Paris, tries to get closer to people by using public transportation and by addressing all events which affect the city. One of the things all candidates do is to go to farmers’ market to shake peoples’ hands and reach out to potential voters. The other main difference is that French do not directly vote for the mayor. They vote for a group of city councilors who are then going to elect one of themseleves as mayor. Therefore, municipal elections are not so much personalized. Affiliation to a political party is the most important criteria that help people to make a choice.

Joe: American politicians partake in similar tactics for a much different reason. We tend to call this shaking hands and kissing babies. The idea is to make an appearance at public gatherings and community service projects in hopes of gathering media attention. A photo of a candidate serving food to a group of senior citizens reinforces the image that the campaign has already established. But with that being said, a campaign would not waste a politician’s time unless they are certain that potential voters will be present at events. Campaigns in America run on statistics and data mining in order to identify potential supporters and turn them out to vote. This means that the candidate has a bigger incentive to knock on specific doors to talk with high propensity voters rather than appearing at public gatherings where it is uncertain how many supporters he can gather.

Sophie: All this requires a big staff and lot off money; how much is a municipal election campaign?

Joe: It varies depending on the scope of election, what powers are at play and how contentious the candidates are. In the recent special election for Mayor of San Diego, nearly $5 million was raised and spent in less than 90 days to support the top three candidates. Most of the money usually originates from powerful interest groups such as business associations and labor organizations; however, individuals can contribute up to $1,000 to a candidate of their choosing. One of the candidate’s main jobs during the campaign cycle is to attract these donors in hopes of funding such things as advertisements, staff and equipment for the campaign. It should be noted, though, that contrary to common belief, money itself does not decide elections. During the 2010 gubernatorial race in California, Republican candidate Meg Whitman raised $160 million and outspent her Democratic challenger, Jerry Brown, by $6 to $1. She lost by more than 1 million votes.

Sophie: How does all this actually play out in the real world?

Joe: American elections are a lot like wars–while there are several strategies that vary depending on a candidate’s strengths, there are some basic components that are commonplace across all campaigns. On one end, there is the wave of advertisements that air on television or signs that appear on derelict buildings. This is comparable to an aerial bombardment in that it indiscriminately spreads destruction throughout a specific area. In addition to this, there is often a field team that act as ground troops. This team finds and targets specific voters and ensures that they turn out to vote by visiting their homes or calling them throughout the days leading up to the election. Finally, there is a slew of negative campaigning that aim to weaken a candidate’s support. Negative campaigning can be indiscriminate (via T.V. ads) or extremely specific. Mail pieces are designed to target specific households that are deemed to be receptive to a particular message. All of these tactics are nasty and require lots of money to work correctly; and in the middle of all these tactics lay the average American voter trying to go about her life.

Photo by Dom Dada