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France lags behind the class in maths, reading

The Local · 8 Oct 2013, 15:58

Published: 08 Oct 2013 15:58 GMT+02:00

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When it comes to adult literacy and numeracy, France's end of term report does not make happy reading.

The results of a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show worrying grades for France in comparison to 23 other countries including Germany, the UK and the USA.

France ranked third from bottom in the literacy table, doing only marginally better than Spain and Italy, with only 7.7% of French adults achieving the two highest levels of literacy (levels 4 and 5), whilst the global average was 11.8 percent.

The proportion of French adults achieving low scores (21.6 percent) ( less than or equal to level 1 ) is "among the most significant" of the countries surveyed where the average was 15.5 percent. Japan was at the top of the literacy table, with the UK scoring around average and the USA and Germany coming in lower with the below average countries.

France's level of numeracy also represented another area of disappointment. Once again the country scored at the below average end of the table, coming in fourth from bottom, just above the USA. The OECD study found that France had 28 % low skilled adults, where the average is 19% in the OECD.

Japan again topped the table in numeracy, whilst the UK didn’t fare much better than France, ending up amongst the below average results. 

'A better educated race'

The OECD study comes after a CSA poll for RTL radio found that 58 percent of French people see the equality of the education they received in the country as unsatisfactory and some 57 percent of respondents felt that teachers in France are “poorly trained.”
According to the poll, one-tenth thought their ‘profs’ were “very-badly trained”, while just two percent judged them “very-well trained.”
British comedian Stephen Fry made headlines in August when he claimed that the French were a "better-educated race" than the British. Fry's statement even provoked disagreement from Sebastien Sihr the head of the French teacher's union, SNUIPPfsu.
“Too many pupils are failing at school. Around 20 percent of students aged 11 are failing and we need to progress to reduce that number," Sihr told The Local.
“We also need to look at the way are children are marked from such a young age as well as the training of teachers. Now is the time to reflect on these things and make sure our schools offer the best conditions for pupils to learn in."
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Author Peter Gumbel who wrote  "On achève bien les écoliers" said: "Almost 20% of French kids actually drop out of school with no qualifications, and their standard of literacy is very low, according to both French and international studies. "
Social origins play a role

The OECD study highlighted France as one of the countries where the results differed greatly between generations.  The group 45-65-year-olds scored much lower in both literacy and numeracy than their younger counterparts, who on the whole achieved scores much closer to the OECD average.

Social origins also appear to play a large role in literacy levels in France with those born in France faring much better than French people born outside of the country.

The OECD surveyed 7000 French people between the ages of 16 and 65 for the numeracy and literacy study which covered 170,000 people across 24 countries.

by Naomi Firsht

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