In France they shoot school kids, don’t they?

Audio 20:55

In the heated, ongoing debate about what’s wrong with France’s education system, little mention is made of what happens in the classroom itself. A British academic says it’s time to take a long hard look at a classroom culture that beats confidence out of its pupils. There’s more to school than getting good marks!


Education matters in France and the country invests more in education than defence or employment. School is seen as the motor of the social elevator. Yet it seems to be conking out.

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment study, carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which measures the educational performance of 15-year-olds in more than 30 countries, found that one out of five French teenagers had serious difficulties in school and that social class is an increasingly determining factor in students’ achievements. Every year 130,000 French children leave school with no qualifications whatsoever.

Over and above academic achievement, 60 per cent of French children complain of being anxious and 40 per cent have problems sleeping.

Peter Gumbel, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris, says part of the problem, and solution, is to be found in the classroom itself. In his recently-published book, On achève bien les écoliers (In France they shoot schoolkids, don’t they?), he argues that France’s classroom culture, with its harsh marking system and tendency to focus on failure, robs pupils of their self-esteem.

While France pushes ahead with yet another education reform - including the axing of some 16,000 teaching posts this year - Gumbel calls for more investment in education, a complete overhaul of teacher training, decentralisation and a new marking system.

His remarks have caused a stir, but they are stimulating debate.

“The major political parties have either contacted me or are quoting me,” says Gumbel. A sign not only that education is set to be a big issue in next year’s presidential election campaigns but that children’s wellbeing might move up the agenda. After all, aren’t school years meant to be the best years of your life?

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