Teachers’ Strike in “Socialist” French Education System

by on October 3, 2011 · 1 comment

in Education, World News

By Randall Erickson / Special to the OB Rag

Education in France

PARIS, FRANCE. September 27th this year, teachers in France from primary school to high school went on a national one-day strike. They weren’t asking for pay raises–though they certainly deserve them–they were on strike to demand the means to do their jobs.

There were around 150,000 demonstrators, including parents supporting their demands. The current rightwing government has already eliminated thousands of educational posts and proposes to eliminate another 14,000 next year. [Editor: Let’s be clear: France does not have a “socialist” government or education system.]

This of course means that the remaining teachers have much larger classes going from around 20 students to 30. Anyone like me who has been a teacher knows that at that level a class becomes difficult, even impossible, to manage. It also means much more(unpaid) work at school and at home because the teacher has that many more students to give attention to and to tests to grade and evaluate the level of each one fairly and more meetings with parents..

The French educational system is run nationally under the authority of the minister of education and includes a large majority of public schools and many authorized private schools, mostly run by Catholic organizations, whose teachers are paid by the state and must teach the national curriculum. This strike for the first time united teachers from both categories.

As teachers retire or leave for other reasons, the current government doesn’t replace all of the missing and some schools don’t have math, history, foreign language, etc. teachers. The government has also eliminated practical or supervised experience for new young teachers who have just received their teaching diplomas. Thus, in their early 20’s, they are hired and thrown before a class, or can I say to the lions, to apply their theoretical knowledge as best they can, without knowing the reality of handling 20 to 30 unknown individuals, and it takes time to get to know the personality of each one. In theory, schools are supposed to be free and equal, but by pure chance, schools in rich areas don’t lack anything and poor and rural areas lack the teachers and receive in priority the most inexprienced to deal with the most difficult classes.

How many of you, dear readers, have had the occasion to address groups of strangers to you and to discuss with them and answer their questions or call them to order without ever losing your calm and always being respectful and avoiding polemics? You also have to avoid reasons for being accused of prejudice and unfairness and personal dislike. All this requires time and experience, which the new teachers are denied.

In Comparison, Take Finland

Certainly there are things that can be improved in the French system, and apparently the best school system in Europe and the world is in Finland, where oddly students spend the least time in class and are not tested until their last year in leaving school. The Smithsonian Magazine has a long article about them(http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html?c=y&story=fullstory).

«“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school.»…

«The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA?cores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide.»

If you go to Youtube and type in «Finnish School», you will find several videos by the BBC and others about their methods. Finland has a real «no child left behind program», and it is public schools.

In Europe, France is among the countries that have the most classroom hours per year and many educators think they should be reduced. The schools are generally good, but there is too much testing and there are still too many students that leave without having all the essentials. But one of the advantages is that there is no time wasted on senseless debates on the theory of evolution. It is accepted as valid and taught as it should be, including the private schools. Oh, there may be a few die hard Christian, or Muslim, deniers hidden in the woodwork, but they are less than marginal. It certainly is not a subject of presidential, or parliamentary, or even local, elections. If any candidate were to bring it up, they would be laughed off stage.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar RErickson October 5, 2011 at 2:45 am

I would like to add that certain supposed “adults” in the U.S. seem to have difficulty with basic science besides evolution. Denying evolution is like denying that the earth moves around the Sun and that the Moon moves around the Earth.

Bill O’Reilly–what a surprise coming from Fox–has a problem understanding these things. More than once, notably when he interviewed British scientist Richard Dawkins about his book, “The God Delusion”, he justified his belief in his imaginary friend by saying that “The Sun comes up and the Sun goes down; the tide comes in and the tide goes out.” concluding that that could not be by accident and means there must be a deity. Dawkins explained to him that these events are well understood.

Physicist Lawrence Krauss in a lecture where he explains cosmology spoke about measuring the universe with a triangle and said, “And ask any European high school student: what’s the sum of the angles in a triangle?” That makes a nice statement about American education.


If the link doesn’t work, look up his name or “A universe from nothing”.

Krauss ends in speaking about the future of the expanding universe and said that a future civilization will end up with wrong conclusions and “They will be lonely ignorant, but dominant, and those of us who live in the United States are used to that.”


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