The OECD Focuses on French Education

Photo: AFP/Jean Ayissi

The Organisation for Economical Cooperation and Development (OECD) has disclosed its annual report on education: Education at a glance 2012 ( and it looks like France has to improve some points.

France invests 6.3% of its GDP in education. However its distribution is often unbalanced compared with OECD averages. In fact France prefers to invest more on secondary and higher education than primary education resources, although many believe that it is at this level that difficulties rise and can be rectified more easily.


OECDE average

Primary Education



Secondary Education



Higher Education



(Investments given per pupil and per year)

What worries the OECD the most is the rate of 15-19 year-old pupils in school. Between 1995 and 2010 this rate dropped from 89% to 84% in France and 71% of them are unemployed or not seeking work (for example, full-time students) while this rate is about 57% on average within all the countries of the OECD.

According to Éric Charbonnier, the author of the piece on France in the Education at a glance 2012 report: “This drop is very worrying because when ones drop school without graduating, the precarious situation of the French job market is much harsher than in other OECD member countries.”

And statistics prove Charbonnier right. Indeed this high unemployment rate for the young carries on: for 25-29 year-olds, the rate of unemployment (including those not seeking work) is about 22% while the OECD average is around 15%.

Those rates are not without consequences on the economy. The survey reveals that graduated students boost national growth, but also widen the wages gap and therefore the social one as well.

With its 35-week academic calendar, France is under the OECD average, which is 38 weeks. During the presidential campaign many candidates advocated for a reform of the educational system with the aim of fewer hours per weeks, but more weeks in the academic calendar as well as a decrease in the number of students per class starting at the kindergarden level.

All these reforms aim at having more time and focus to prevent school failures, to correct student difficulties and to provide pupils with the best and most efficient education as possible.

Additionally, a concern is the path from academia to the real world. Links have to be tied between schools or universities and the job market. The recognition and the development of vocation education have to be carried on because these are more strongly connected to the reality of the job market, according to Charbonnier. The status of internships should be reconsidered too, since it embodies a first step in the active life and give students new experiences, skills and abilities.

The tuition fees in higher education should be re-evaluated as well. Charbonnier suggests using Australian universities as an example. They adjust their fees on the situation of the job market: so if a sector is lacking workers, the fees are decreased so as to ease the access to university education. Students will then, in theory, have a better chance of finding jobs at the end of their studies while the economy sees a boost as well.

One of the largest problems is the status of educators. Though the maximum wage for teachers is higher than in other OECD countries, their statuary wages is under the OECD average.

Many believe France should seriously consider the idea of leading a campaign to promote the recognition of teachers like Finland did during the 1990s.  Because teachers are one of the main keys of our societies: they are the ones who open our children to different ways of thinking and the world that awaits flexible minds. They ensure that various ideas and opinions are shared and pursued, they make us discover others and what life, history and societies are about. By better understanding the real profession that is teaching , society may very well perceive them differently. This could decrease the number of attacks against teachers if people were more aware of the reality of this profession, but most of all it would ensure to avoid the shortage of teachers – an issue with which most OECD countries are grappling.

If you want more information about the situation of France and if you can read French, please have a look to Eric Charbonnier’s country note:


  1. […] compared to between 180-200 in similar countries. Some blame these bad learning conditions for the constant degrading of the general level of French education over the past few […]

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