As the Conkers Fall, France Has a Lesson for Our Schools

By Lichfield, John | The Independent (London, England), September 16, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

As the Conkers Fall, France Has a Lesson for Our Schools


Lichfield, John, The Independent (London, England)


Just as in Britain, the new school year in France has produced heated exchanges about the plans for educational reform. But the French, with a tradition of centralised, old-fashioned schooling, seem to be heading in the opposite direction to us - they want more creativity and less control. So what is going on? Do they know something we don't? Our correspondent, with a young son at school in Paris, investigates.

France is a country of immutable rhythms. The grapes are being harvested, conkers are falling, unheeded, from the trees, children are back at school and the education minister is threatening to reform the French education system.

The new school year has started with another ritual debate: are school satchels too heavy? French school-children, like bag-ladies, tend to carry all their possessions with them. The chic item this autumn, for boys and girls alike, is the wheelie-satchel, which resembles the overnight bag popularised by flight attendants. Charlie, aged 7, has been advised by his school-friends that when you reach the heights of his new class - CE1, or the second year of primary school proper - it is no longer cool to wear your satchel on your back. If your parents refuse to provide you with wheels, you must carry your huge bag in your hand, with the correct degree of pained insouciance. Now that he has moved up one class, the iron grip of the French education system is beginning to tighten on Charlie. School for seven- and eight- year-olds consists of the five Rs: reading, writing, arithmetic, religion and running around the playground. There is little art and no geography or history. Reading starts later in France. Charlie already reads perfectly in English. But in French he and his French classmates remain at a basic level. "Toto the snail has hay-fever." (Lucky Toto, you might say, if it saves him from being eaten in garlic). The school day is composed mostly of copying from the blackboard, and dictation to improve the pupils' handwriting, spelling and grammar. Creative writing is unknown. Project work exists only on the religious lessons, where Charlie and his classmates are studying the life of Mother Teresa. (Diana, Princess of Wales, whose fatal car accident occurred a half mile from the school, also received an honourable mention from the teacher.) Charlie goes to a Catholic, and therefore private school, but one under contract to the state and generously subsidised, in return for obedience to the national curriculum. The time when education ministers knew exactly what each child in France was studying at each hour of the day is long gone. But much - almost certainly too much - remains controlled from the centre. The French attitude to the French education system is like the British attitude to the British justice system; a simultaneous belief that it is the best in world and riddled with failings. The most common criticism is that the emphasis on the basics, and the reliance on rote learning, produces minds which are literate, well-informed but lacking in initiative and creativity. A survey last week suggested that some schools were not even delivering the basics very well: it found that one in 10 young French people presenting themselves for induction for national service could not read properly.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

As the Conkers Fall, France Has a Lesson for Our Schools
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?