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Fixing the French education system Fixing the French education system
by Joseph Gatt
2019-05-30 08:07:28
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The French education system seems to be agonizing. In my opinion three things need to be fixed: the curriculum, teachers and testing.

The curriculum

Humanities: French, history and philosophy are taught, but with a huge focus on the periods going from the industrial revolution to the end of World War II. Only classical French literature is taught, and books published after the 1970s are seldom taught. History focuses largely on the periods dating from the industrial revolution to the Cold War. I once asked my French teacher if we could discuss contemporary French politics, and his answer was that “you're too young to vote.”

ecol01Philosophy teaches philosophers going from the enlightenment to the 1950s. This means most French citizens are completely incapable of observing current trends, or describing their environment, or speculating on trends, so most French observers look at what goes on in the UK or the US before importing British and American contemporary ideas to France. The curriculum also has nothing on contemporary French social or anthropologic trends, meaning the French tend to have trouble defining the society they live in.

Languages: mostly syntax, or the science of grammar, is taught in foreign language classes. Emphasis is placed on accuracy rather than fluency, and languages are largely taught using a grammar-translation method. This means even when the French do succeed at learning foreign languages, they instinctively check for accuracy and keep correcting people's mistakes.

Science: There is no computer science or coding classes in the French curriculum. The science curriculum is largely based on memorization and knowledge of the terminology. Students are taught to repeat experiments rather than conduct their own experiments, and solve concrete rather than abstract problems. Few or no thought experiments are made, and the history of science is seldom taught.

Social and economic studies: social studies are taught in high school, but the problem is you have to choose between social studies and science, and can't choose to study both. Social studies largely focus on business law and on how businesses operate, and discuss family law a little bit, but does not discuss culture, religion, traditions or sub-cultures.


A lot of French teachers act like they would rather be anywhere other than the classroom. I've met few French teachers who love teaching, and teachers tend to micromanage the classroom. In fact most teachers go through a long period of laissez-faire before they start micromanaging the classroom, but there is seldom something in between, that is milder forms of management.

Teachers tend to be rude with the students yet expect deference from the students. Teachers also avoid off-topic conversation at all costs and tend not to contextualize what they teach with current events. Some teachers go as far as bullying a few students, and “challenge” students to fail the class. Unfortunately many of those bullied students will accept the challenge.

Finally, a lot of teachers don't show up to class with a lesson plan and tend to improvise the lesson. In some cases teachers even improvise tests. Teachers also tend to lack knowledge in the subjects they teach, and focus largely on accuracy of the responses rather than on fluency of the subject.


The French testing system is rather unique in that you get points both for fluency and for accuracy. In most systems around the world you only get points for the accuracy of the response.

There are two problems with testing: testing depends largely on the mood of the teacher that is a teacher in a good mood will give easy tests, a teacher in a bad mood will give a rough test and fail everyone.

The second problem is that tests tend to be improvised rather than carefully crafted. That can lead some teachers to asking test questions that were not in the curriculum, that were not taught in class, or tests to contain vague questions with vague grading scales that students, parents and teachers don't really understand.

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