The French government devotes the largest share of its budget to education; according to 2015 statistics, 146 billion euros (200 billion US dollars) are ascribed to education, which represents approximately 6,2% of French GDP. Based on these rates, one might think that education is a strong point in France, but in fact it is a problem.
International studies conducted by PISA tested 15-year-old students in mathematics, writing comprehension and science in 65 countries, and composed a classification of the best countries. French is sinking further and further in this ranking, holding the underwhelming 25th position in the PISA 2012 study.
Since 1882, school in France is free, secular, and compulsory for all children ages 6 through 16. The general system divides education into 4 cycles :
-The first cycle is optional, but most parents opt to start their children in this cycle. It concerns children aged from 3 to 6 years.
-The second cycle is called « primary school » and lasts 5 years. Children learn how to write, and the basics of mathematics, history, french, geography, and other subjects.
-Then, at 11 years old, the children enter middle school, what we call « college ». For 4 years they study many subjects, such as geometry, English and one or two other languages, music, art, physics, and science. At the end of this cycle, students take an exam called a « certificate ».
-The final cycle is « high school ». It lasts 3 years, during which students prepare for a major exam they take when they are 18 years old. For the last 2 years of this cycle, they must choose from three specialities : scientific (the most common), economic or literary. They then pursue higher education, going to engineering schools, business schools, or other institutions.
However, this is the « royal way », and the majority of students (over 75%) follow a more specific program, either technological or professional, that prepares them for a trade, such as baking. This allows students to engage in internships and to start working earlier.
To conclude, according to the rankings, education isn’t France’s main asset. Still, students acquire a broad and deep general knowledge, which is useful, and France has brilliant and famous high schools that attract students from around the world.
by Bastien Sbraire