The Diminishing Value of the Baccalaureate

The Baccalaureate Exam was created in 1808 in France to evaluate, at the end of high school, students’ knowledge that they had gained. It was also intended to ensure that the students were capable of advancing to higher learning. This year’s students are the first to take the Bac after the reform of 2010. Although, it seems to many that the reform did not resolve many problems of the Bac.

The number of people pushing against the Bac is growing. One of them is Michel Fize, a well-known Sociologist and member of the CNRS (National Center of the Scientific Research). He recently explained why he opposed the exam in the leftist French newspaper, Libération. The idea of eradicating the Bac has not yet been adopted by the government but more and more questions have been raised.

The Bac no longer has its old value. Today, passing the bac does not assure that students get into universities and technical schools. Additionally it does not allow students to follow any course of study. The “Bac L” for “Literary” and “ES” for “Economic Studies” are becoming less and less recognized while the “Bac S” for “Scientific” is gaining prestige. Most of the accomplished students are going to “S” track of the Bac regardless of what subject they wish to pursue afterwards.

Camille Dragutin, a student in the S track said, “I love literature and philosophy, but I went to S because I was the first in my class and my teacher told me S would be better for me. I cruelly regret my choice now because I realized doing math and physics really wasn’t for me.”

Literature and Philosophy are two of the main components in the Bac L.

A Bac S allows students to do literary studies but the contrary is not allowed, making teachers advise students to pursue the S track if they are unsure of what they want to study in the future.

Furthermore, Universities and “Les Grandes Ecoles” (very prestigious higher education institutions)   are analyzing high school records giving out acceptances before the Bac results are released, showing that it is not even taken into consideration in most cases regarding admissions.  There are two possible arguments for this practice. Many argue that scores on the Bac do not correlate to the student’s academic record or predict their future success in higher education institutions. Another argument is that the level at which the Bac tests, is relatively low so Universities believe that high school records are better indicators of the student’s performance.

Beatrix Capoul, an ES student said, “The level [of my studies] this past year was really superior than the Bac level. I think the grade [on the Bac] I’ll have won’t matter except for my pride.” The Bac tests memory rather than a capacity for reflection .

For people who stop their studies after taking the Bac, the diploma has little value and gives access to the same jobs as people who do not have a diploma. The success rate was 85.7% last year including people who did not show up for the test. According to different sources 92-96% of people who take the exam receive their Bac accreditation.  Many do not consider it a serious diploma.

Additionally, the administration of the test and the entire program is incredibly expensive, 58 billion euros this year, adding to why many do not believe it is worth it under the current economic crisis.

Luc Chatel, the Education Minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s Presidency, aimed to reform the system. The new Education Minister, Vincent Peillon, also believes in its revision but has different suggestions than his predecessor. He has refrained from revealing his ideas for the program, saying, ”there will be debates during the summer.”

The question of eliminating the Bac has not been raised, but every politician from the right to the left seem to agree on one thing: it cannot go on in its current form.

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