French school reforms: Lunches to languages

French school reforms: Lunches to languages
French pupils will get longer lunch breaks and learn another language under planned reforms. Photo: AFP
France's education minister has announced a series of reforms that will see pupils doing more work in small groups and picking up an extra foreign language earlier. Here are the key points.
France's high school education system (collège) is "doing badly" and pupils' results are deteriorating, Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told Le Parisien newspaper on Wednesday. 
"The problem with French high school pupils today is that they are bored. We need to reawaken their appetite," she later told Europe1 radio.
With that in mind Vallaud-Belkacem announced a series of reforms to the school system on Wednesday scheduled to come into effect in September 2016, which she hopes will tackle the disparity among the pupils.
The reforms aim especially to address the issues of children who are falling behind, in an effort to change what some have referred to as France's elitist school curriculum
"The high school system works well for around one third of pupils, while 20 percent of them are failing. The rest, just about advance, but often have to repeat years," said the OECD's education specialist Eric Charbonnier.
Here are the key points from the new reforms, which were presented to the cabinet and must be given the green light by parliament.
An extra language in the fifth grade
The ministry wants pupils to start learning their second foreign language one year earlier than they currently do, meaning they will be picking it up in the fifth grade (aged 12-13). The extra time spent on a new language is likely to affect pupils' time learning English, or at least that's how schools trialing the change have found the time. 
"Bilingual" or "international" classes may also be cut to make time for the learning of the second language.
More time in smaller groups
Four to five hours of pupils' time each week will be set aside for work in smaller groups. These hours will be specifically tailored to pupils' needs, including attention to their depth of learning and their working methods. The aim is to meet the needs of students who may be falling behind.
Pupils will also be given "personalized" teaching time to help them make a smooth transition from primary school to collège.
"Contextualizing classes"
Interdisciplinary lessons will be introduced for pupils in a bid to broaden their knowledge and to contextualize what they're learning in their normal classes.
For the minister this will allow teachers to "remove the barriers" around knowledge and make subjects seem less abstract for the pupils. This may require teachers to develop a radical new approach to teaching, which they may or may not be happy about.
Eight topics have been chosen, ranging from sustainable development to economics, where children will get a chance to apply their theoretical knowledge. Other topics include: languages and culture, science and society, and health and safety.
Long lunch breaks
High school kids will get a break of at least 90 minutes for lunch – something that has been a long-time demand from parents. 
Into the 21st century
The reforms included a push to get up to speed with modern times. This includes a focus on getting tablets and online materials at pupils' disposal and even introducing lessons in coding.
Parents more involved 
Vallaud-Belkacem's reform also plans to get parents more involved and give them a greater responsibility over the success of their children. An online school booklet for parents will be produced.
The next step for the minister could however be tricky as she will present the reforms to unions, after which three weeks of tense negotiations will begin.
Who knows what will be left of her bill after that.

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