Parents in France are up in arms over Education Minister Vincent Peillon’s remarks that he would like to see summer school holidays in the country shrink from their current 8 weeks to a more abbreviated 6 weeks.
This isn’t the first time that Peillon has gotten himself into trouble with both parents and educators. His suggestion that French schools do away with their midweek break was met with similar levels of dissent and protest.
Statements by Peillon are all part of putting into practice the new President François Hollande’s plans for an overhaul of the French education system. Prior to the election he said that it didn’t make sense that the country had the shortest school year, and yet students typically spent more time in class than many of their European peers. Among the things that Hollande hoped to change was the amount of homework students received as well as the number of students forced to repeat a grade because they are unable to keep up with the curriculum.
Secondary school students in France spend an average of 847 hours a year in school, compared with an average of 774 in many European countries. Recent studies, however, have shown that France is falling behind in education standards compared with its European neighbours and the United States.
The long school days and short academic years aren’t the only problems plaguing schools in France. Peter Gumbel, a British journalist, authored a book about the academic system in France – titled “They Shoot Schoolchildren, Don’t They?” in which he claimed that the entire way of learning in the country was hopelessly out of date with the modern academic practices. He called the classroom experience in France “grinding and dull.”
Gumbel’s criticisms are resonating because despite the fact that French students spend – on average – more than 100 additional hours in school, compared to the average across all European countries, they continue to fall behind on international league tables.
Gumbel, a lecturer at the Institute of Political Science, known as Sciences Po, attacked a classroom culture that, he said, branded students as “worthless” and was counterproductive and contrary to France’s republican ideals.
“Why is France the only country in the world that discourages children because of what they cannot do, rather than encouraging them to do what they can?” Gumbel wrote. “I believe France is missing a key element of what’s wrong with the school system, an element that is immediately apparent to any foreigner who comes into contact with it: the harshness of the classroom culture.