What would you like to know about the French system of education?
Here’s a brief description for you of its background, its structure, and some of its important characteristics, just as an introduction.
French education, like that in other countries, is struggling greatly to cope with the current pandemic. Its functioning is in enormous upheaval. Its very remaining open is problematic and controversial, and organization of instruction in safe conditions is an ongoing challenge. The information in this article describes the system as it operates under normal circumstances (which may be a long time in returning) but it should help nevertheless to understand the underlying nature of the system.
You should know that in its organization and administration, the French system of education is very different from that of the U.S. and of some other English-speaking countries. It provides a striking contrast for Americans, who have no centralized Ministry of Education, but rather 16,800 or so basically autonomous school districts run by locally elected school boards, and even differing regulations from state to state. The centralized French approach to education stems, of course, from a long overall tradition of centralized government, and was designed to ensure at least égalité to French citizens by providing free, universal instruction accessible to all.
In France, the centralized public school system is under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education, Youth, and Sports. It is for all intents and purposes the same everywhere, including overseas, except for minor differences due to local conditions or constraints. There is a national curriculum with national exams. Teachers must obtain national certification, and belong to a national corps of civil servants.
- 535 overseas schools under the French system, located in 139 countries.
- 28 regional administrative districts (Academies) headed by Recteurs
- Schooling is free and compulsory from 3 to 16 years of age.
- Of France’s 67 million residents, 13 million are children in primary and secondary schools, and over 800,000 are teachers.
- About 17% of schools are private.
- Approximately 97% of these private schools are under the administration of the Education Nationale (sous contrat d’état) and are largely Catholic.
Like other educational systems in the developed world, the French system has of course to cope with a number of concerns, including the very serious problems of violence and substance abuse in some schools, problematic math and reading levels, teacher training and absenteeism, and the competition with the internet, phones, and TV for students’ interest and time.
There is concern about anxiety and depression among students. There are naturally periodic complaints about all these issues, and calls for reform of various kinds which successive Ministers of Education have tried to deal with, with varying success.
Nevertheless, you will see that the French system has an intellectual and educational tradition of quality and high standards, of which the country is generally proud. Its graduates are highly regarded throughout the world.