The French State is very implicated in its education system, making it for decades one of the world leaders in education. Thanks to Jules Ferry’s eminent laws on public education in 1882, primary school has, since then, not only been free, but also mandatory for 6 to 13 year olds. In 1959, education has also become obligatory for 13 to 16 years old.
France’s educative system is mostly controlled by the Ministry of National Education. Today, the vast majority of the country’s 65 000 schools are directly regulated by the State, 20% of them only being administered by private entities. A quarter of the French population, which amounts to 15 million pupils and students, is currently receiving an education on the country’s grounds, while the total cost of education in France accounts for 6.6% of the country’s GDP.
The education system in France has been modulated countless times over the centuries, and has sometimes been faced with colossal changes, such as following the May Riots of 1968. Modifications are, to this day, still being carried out within the Ministry of Education, one of which recently instigated great controversy. Last year, France’s Minister of Education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, reformed the curriculum taught in middle schools by suppressing classes in Latin and Ancient Greek, and the “European Section” course, in which students discovered the culture of one European country in its respective language. The Minister bases her decision on the grounds that those three courses are elitist, as only “privileged” pupils, or students of the upper class, take them. However, this reform only sparked widespread anger amongst teachers, who went on strike for several days. They, in turn, argue that if Latin, Greek, and the European Section classes are removed from the curriculum in public middle schools, they will also be suppressed in public high schools’ curriculum in the years to come. Consequently, all the “privileged” students wanting to pursue an education in Latin or Ancient Greek will have no other option but to switch to private schools, threatening the academic level of public schools to drop considerably. Therefore, teachers sustain their belief that this reform will only serve to further exacerbate social inequalities between students, since those courses will now only make themselves available to those who can afford paying for them.
Even though France was one of the leaders in education in the previous decades and centuries, it has unquestionably suffered a blow in its prestige, trailing behind as 19th among the world’s top twenty education systems. 45% of the French population has not completed high school, and only 20% of those who do, choose to pursue a higher education. Education in France is still very centered on the country itself, as most of those who finish high school tend to pursue their studies in France, with only 30 000 students traveling abroad in order to receive a higher education. The latter generally stay within the European Union; those who choose to move to North America or Asia are still part of small minority.
by Marin E.