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French less educated than other Europeans

Joshua Melvin · 21 Feb 2014, 17:06

Published: 21 Feb 2014 17:06 GMT+01:00

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Fewer French adults have finished high school on average than their neighbors in the European Union, but this number somewhat obscures an exploding number of graduates in France over the past three decades.

Though the study from France’s national statistics agency, Insee, showed about 72.5 percent of French adults have completed high school, compared to 74.2 percent in the rest of Europe, it actually used to be worse.

A whopping 56 percent of people who are currently over the age of 65 left high school without getting a diploma.

The Insee figures showed a big change:  about 11.6 percent of 18-24 year olds had quit school without getting a diploma and were not enrolled in any other classes.

"This strong growth is mainly due to an increase in the number of general baccalauréats and significant growth in the vocational baccalauréats ", created in the mid-80s, according to INSEE.

When broken down, the statistics show 13.4 percent of young men in 2012 left middle school before finishing, while the number was 9.8 percent for girls.

In France, the number of graduates has boomed over the past 35 years as more than three-quarters of the French, 76.7, percent have achieved some type of baccalauréat degree. It is three times more than the 25.9 percent in 1980.

These results show improvement over previous decades, but the agency responsible for France’s schools, Education Nationale, has nonetheless been assailed by charges in recent years of dysfunction and inequality.

An agency spokeswoman did not immediately provide comment on the Insee study's results

A 2013 poll carried out for RTL radio found that 58 percent of French people were unhappy with the quality of the education they received.

With the chief cause being the standard of teaching. Some 57 percent of respondents felt that teachers in France are “poorly trained.”

“From the point of view of the French people, teachers today are not trained well to deal with events like conflicts between pupils, or even conflicts between pupils and teachers, over subjects such as religion,” pollster Yves-Marie Cann told RTL.

Teachers are also unhappy with the system, with some willing to take their own lives in protest.

A 55-year-old teacher of electronics at the Lycée Artaud in the southern city of Marseille killed himself, just two days before the beginning of the new school year in France.

“Basically, I cannot accept in good conscience what the [teaching] profession, at least in my speciality, has become,” he said in a suicide note.

“I could have set myself on fire in the middle of the schoolyard, the day the pupils came back to school,” he wrote, referring to a shocking incident in 2011 when a maths teacher in the southern city of Beziers died after self-immolating in front of her students. "That would have had a certain style, but I don’t have the virtue for that."

Among these troubling signs there's also an indication in the Insee study that France is sliding back to a lower level of early education.

Schooling among two-year-old children has been falling for the past decade. One in three toddlers was signed up for some kind of formal schooling in the 2000s, against 11.6 percent in 2011.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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