Inequality Rampant in French Education

The French education system continues to struggle with a wide performance gap. Above, a Lycée in Paris. Photo: faungg for Flickr.

The French education system continues to struggle with a wide performance gap. Above, a Lycée in Paris. Photo: faungg for Flickr.

Every three years, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) performs a study ­– the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – assessing the scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in member and non-member nations.

While France’s scores improved somewhat since the last survey, the results for 2012, presented on December 3, 2013, showed that the French education system is more unequal than in the nine preceding years.

In all disciplines, French students were average. The country ranked 25th in math, 26th in the sciences, and 21st in reading, out of 65 countries total. Among the 34 OECD countries, France ranked 18th, 19th, and 14th, respectively.

French students, the report finds, display contradictory tendencies – they like to learn, and yet they are very anxious. They have a greater interest in math than the average OECD country (65 percent v. 53 percent), although one out of every two students is “very stressed” when he or she has a math assignment to complete.

Students from a lower socio-economic status had poorer performance and were more anxious than their classmates.

Deemed “champion of the world in scholarly inequalities,” the country ranked first in terms of inequality. For example, students saw a 281-point difference in overall score between the best and worst 10 percent.

France saw an increase in the number of struggling students, whose chances of success have decreased since 2003. The PISA report suggests a strong correlation between socio-economic status and performance.

Students coming from immigrant families are also struggling – they are at least two times more likely to be among the struggling students. The number of non-French native students at “level 2,” or below the expected performance level for their age, has reached 43 percent.

These students are also less invested, committed to their studies, and perseverant, and much more anxious in relation to the average OECD country.

Inequalities among French students are continuing to rise, despite years of evidence of inequality. The increase is concerning, although finding a solution is not without precedence. In the past, Portugal, Italy, Poland, and Germany have all succeeded in reducing the proportion of struggling students.

The need for improvement is clear. After former President Nicolas Sarkozy cut 80,000 jobs in education during his tenure, President François Hollande’s government is making an effort to reform the system – adding more teachers, reinstating teacher training programs, and increasing the number of years that students are required to stay in school, among others.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Every three years, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) performs a study ­– the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – assessing the scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in member and non-member nations. While France’s scores improved somewhat since the last survey, the results for 2012 showed that the French education system is more unequal than in the nine preceding years. In all disciplines, French students were average. The country ranked 25th in math, 26th in the sciences, and 21st in reading, out of 65 countries total. Among the 34 OECD countries, France ranked 18th, 19th, and 14th, respectively. Read more about the OECD report. […]

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