Having read some of people’s opinions and experiences of french education it got me thinking…
Before moving to France I was teacher of Food Technology and Business Studies (primarily) in a secondary school in England. In English schools the students have no option when it comes to practical subjects, they have to do them from age 11. My experience of this was that they covered skills like cookery, woodwork, metalwork, building skills, etc. depending on the school. I worked in a school where 80% of the students were transient and therefore had differing experiences and attitudes to school and what they learnt. Most of the students I taught treated the practical subjects and academic subjects with equal distaste! You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink as the saying goes… We also had a lot of special needs students and a department in school to address the most severe cases.
When we moved to France my son was 8 years old and couldn’t speak or understand a word of French. He was the only English boy in his class and having been labelled a disruptive student in his English primary school I knew I was in for a lot of worry and heartache.
However within his first year of primary school here in France his school highlighted his problem with study – he was dyslexic. He was referred to an orthophoniste (speech therapist) and this helped him immeasurably and he overcame many of his problems. He now reads and writes French better than he does English and verbally he is fluent (I am very envious of him).
We learnt an awful lot too by sitting in with him for these sessions, for example, how the French alphabet is pronounced and where certain words, phrases, etc derived from. I would have liked to go on to more of these sessions as they were very interesting! At this point I would like to say that the two a week sessions with the orthophoniste were after school – he wasn’t taken out of main stream school and therefore it added no further stress to him, especially with integrating into his class and feeling accepted.
I was surprised however that he didn’t appear to have any practical study as such once he got to secondary level. He never went on to liking school, or I should say, liking school work and I, along with his teachers had an up hill battle on our hands. He left at the age of 15 to begin an apprenticeship which involves him continuing with core studies of maths and French along with the technical aspects of the work. This first year of his apprenticeship means he goes to college alternate weeks and does work experience in a local business the other weeks. I’m very happy to say that he is a changed character – top of the class, including maths and French and the teachers pleased with him. The same goes for his two bosses where he works so fingers crossed he’ll be happy and continue to do well – he now has ambition, which I love to see!
My point to all this is I think that the French system offers the student an alternative that can work for the less academic student without alienating them.
I wonder also – does the French system encourage practical skills to be passed down through family rather than experience? It would be interesting to see how many students study woodwork for example because their father does it as his work? Is it just the girls that cook at home that turn to catering?
I now also have a five year old daughter who is the opposite of my son in just about every way! She loves school and is looking forward to starting primary (at age 6 in France) where she will indeed get homework (devoir) to do and she keeps asking for it now! The work that she does now in maternelle (nursery) is far superior to the work that my son did at the same age in England – they really do stretch them here and, incidentally, discipline is superb. She does get lots of practical activity too – cookery, craft work of all sorts, etc.
Another advantage to French schools is their “cantine” – the food is exceptional and you know when they come home that they have had a well balanced, and made, meal, usually 4 courses….
This is not a comprehensive picture of my thoughts about French versus English re. education and I am no expert – just an interested observer. I would like to say though that both systems have a lot to offer and it seems to me that a lot depends on other influences such as personality, teachers and schools and general understanding of the system. I would be interested to hear other people’s opinions or experiences on this matter….