France lags behind the class in maths, reading

France is proving to be a poor student and is lagging behind the rest of the class when it comes to reading and mathematics, according to the findings of a new global study.

France lags behind the class in maths, reading
France could do better when it comes to adult literacy and numeracy, according to the OECD report. Photo: Ed Brambley

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."
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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France tops global table for welfare spending

France’s Socialist administration continues to shell out more on social spending than any other government, according to a report published on Thursday by the OECD. But how long it will it continue to do so.

France tops global table for welfare spending
Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

France spends 33 percent of its gross domestic product on welfare spending, a new study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed this week. That figure represents more than any other OECD country.

"With the recent crisis that started in 2007/08, social spending increased to 22 percent of GDP on average across the OECD in 2009 and it has not gone down since," read the report, published on Thursday.

The OECD said the rise in spending was down to two factors: the government’s need to address the greater need for social support, such as unemployment, pensions or housing benefit and gross domestic product growing slowly or even declining. 

 In 2009, France spent the highest proportion – a total of 32.1 percent – of its gross domestic product on welfare payments. This was followed by Denmark at 30.2 percent and Sweden at 29.8 percent. The European average was 22.1 percent.

In its predictions for 2013, the OECD still places France ahead of other countries in social spending with 33 percent of gross domestic product. The country is closely followed by Denmark at 30.8 percent, Belgium at 30.7 percent and an average of 21.9 percent in OECD countries. 

Christophe Blot from the French Economic Observatory said the reason France continued to spend so much was down do the burden on the state of the public pensions system.

And with the population ageing, pension and health spending is only likely to increase in years ahead," the OECD says.

The predicted continued rise in social spending is in spite of Prime Minister Jean-Ayrault’s confirmation in June that government spending would be cut in 2014 for the first time since 1958.

"Every year since 1958, since the beginning of the Fifth Republic, state spending has increased," Ayrault was quoted by AFP as saying.

He spoke as he sent his ministries spending caps that will result in a cut of about €1.5 billion ($2.0) in central government spending in 2014 from the 2013 level.

"This is the first time that we will propose to Parliament such a reduction. It is a structural effort," he added.

And earlier this year plans were announced to reform the family allowance system which would see the country's richer families lose their benefits.

However Blot believes France is unlikely to see the kind of cuts implemented in the UK and Germany in recent years, despite pressure from Europe.

"I don't think it will be so drastic," Blot told The Local. "The changes to family allowances was a step in that direction, but I don't think France will go as far down that road as the UK or Germany did.

"If we had a right wing government in power, maybe it would be a bit clearer but with the Socialist government things are more uncertain."