Teachers in France are on strike to protest education reforms intended to level the playing field, but that have been widely criticized for missing the mark.
Both Conservatives and teachers (who usually lean towards the opposing Socialist party) stand against new reforms, which would affect middle schools. It is unclear how many teachers are involved; the SNES trade union said that it was more than half of high school teachers, but the Education Ministry said it was 27%. 61% of the general population opposes the changes.
The proposal by Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem included reforming classes for 11-15 year olds after that group performed badly in international tests compared to students in other countries. It will allow middle schools to design 20% of their own curriculum. The government also plans on introducing multidisciplinary classes, according to TeleSUR.
The proposal also takes into account a 2012 study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development which found that the performance of students in France is most closely tied to the socio-economic status of the parents. Only Taipei has more of a gap in math achievement between students of different economic classes, notes Lori Hinnant of the AP.
The children of laborers were more likely to drop out than the children of white collar workers, and the new reforms aim to control this problem and reduce elitism overall.
Some are concerned the reforms would impact foreign language lessons, reports Deutsche Welle. A bilingual program aimed at the top 15% of students would be cut so that funds could be redirected toward younger students. Students would start learning their first foreign language at age 6 and their second around age 12. Latin and Greek would be de-emphasized.
Former Education Minister Jack Lang, who established these classes in 1992, spoke out against these changes. RFI quoted his objections:
“Twenty per cent of students opt for these classes. They’re a great success. Why should we stop these classes? They must be saved. Streams of excellence are not reserved for the elite, they are also for deprived areas.”
Conservatives said that the plans were a “shipwreck for France.” Teachers, who are mostly Socialists, believe that it will increase inter-school competition and increase inequality. Even former Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was also a German teacher, supported the strike and asked the government to partially redraft the reform.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is determined to pass the reforms, said:
The reform is essential. We want to change an education system that reinforces inequalities. We want to improve everyone’s level across the board.
The German government raised concerns that fewer French students would be learning German, but Vallaud-Belkacem replied that numbers of students taking German would actually increase.