French pupils protest English exam for being too hard

More than 13,000 French high school pupils have signed a petition calling for the English section of the Baccalaureate exam to be cancelled because of “comprehension difficulties”.

French pupils protest English exam for being too hard
Photo: AFP

It’s that time of year again.

All around France, stressed-out French pupils are taking their end-of-school Baccalaureate exams, and as they did last year, many are complaining that the English portion of the Baccalaureate was just too hard. 

More than 13,000 pupils have signed a petition asking for the English section of the exam to be annulled or for the grading scale to be revised. 

The contested portion of the June 17th exam is Document A, a 21-line extract from 2014 novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. 

The text describes a man strolling down the Hudson River while contemplating urbanisation in the borough of Manhattan at the beginning of the 20th century.

Pupils were asked in which city and time period the text was set as well as questioned on the mood and the characters' feelings. 

But students found the extract unfair and too difficult to understand, with many of them apparently not making the connection that Manhattan is located in New York.

“I did not have the geographical and historical knowledge necessary for full understanding of the text,” one petitioner wrote. 

Another wrote: “It’s written English, to assess the level of ENGLISH, not an environmental planning Bac or a geographic or cultural exam.”

However, the following Document B references both Manhattan and New York. 

It turns out not everyone had much sympathy for the pupils' complaints.

Indignant French, including some pupils who took the exam in question, have taken to Twitter to voice their concern for the future of today's youth. 

“Come on guys, stop. You're making us seem like a stupid generation. This petition is ridiculous,” writes the Twitter user below.

“So guys, when an English person speaks to you and you don't understand, are you going to make a petition?” questioned another Twitter user.

The comments section of the petition also included some comments from those who clearly didn't sign it.

“Fortunately not all the youths are like you, that’s to say entitled people who give up at the slightest obstacle,” wrote Adrien Martin.

“Having seen that some idiots dared to make a petition for a subject that’s “too complicated”, I tell myself that the future of our country is uncertain.

“The problem isn’t national education, it’s YOU.” 

This complaint had a familiar ring to it, as last year French pupils took issue with an “impossible” question about Ian McEwan's novel Atonement.

Apparently many had trouble understanding a question that asked how a character was “coping” with a certain situation, arguing that “coping” was not a very common word. 

Perhaps these difficulties shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, as a recent survey ranked France as the worst in the EU at learning English.  

It remains to be seen if and how the Education Minister will respond to the petition, but after a similar outcry in 2014 regarding mathematics and physics-chemistry sections of the Bac, those grading the exams were asked to be lenient.

So are these French pupils just being ridiculous, or should the English portion of the Bac really be cancelled?

Decide for yourself by checking out a copy of the exam here.  




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School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents

The number of school and class closures in France has increased, the education minister reported on Wednesday, but the government has relaxed the rules for parents sending children back to class.

School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents
Children over 11 in France have to wear masks during the school day. Photo: AFP

A total of 81 establishments and 2,100 individual classes have closed after discovering Covid-19 cases on their premises.

The number was a rise on the figures last week when 28 schools and 524 individual classes were closed.

“We have around 1,200 new Covid cases among pupils compared with last week,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told the LCI channel on Wednesday.

“We shut down a class as soon as there are three cases,” he said.

Blanquer noted that the closures represent just a small fraction of the 60,000 schools across France, calling the beginning of the new school year “the best possible given the health crisis.”


French officials have warned nonetheless that new restrictions might be required to stem a worrying increase in coronavirus cases since August.

IN NUMBERS: How fast are France's Covid-19 rates increasing?

No more official sick notes

Despite the surge in cases registered in schools, children with Covid-19 symptoms will no longer need to provide a doctor's sick note (une attestation) to return to class, Blanquer told BFMTV on Tuesday evening.

Instead, parents will need to fill in what in French is called an attestation sur l'honneur, a written document signed by the parent, stating either that the child tested negative for the virus, or a doctor has ruled out that the child has Covid-19.

READ ALSO: The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms (including the coronavirus 'attestation')

This followed a series of complaints from medical establishments across the country that they were overwhelmed with demands for sick notes and that parents were sending children with very light symptoms such as runny noses to get checked up.

According to the new rules, children who are identified as contact cases must get tested for the virus seven days after their last contact with the confirmed case. If the result comes back negative, the child can go back to class provided that a parent has provided a signed written attestation saying that the test came back negative. No proof for the test result will be required. 

A child with Covid-19 symptoms can also return to class if this attestation indicates that a doctor has ruled out the virus as cause for the symptoms, without providing any proof for the medical appointment.

The new health protocol will be updated and published on the education ministry's website shortly.

READ ALSO: The French school vocab parents need

'Chomage partiel'

Parents affected by the school closures can access to the partial unemployment scheme bolstered by the government at the beginning of the lockdown in March to help businesses foot their employees' salaries to prevent mass layoffs.

Those concerned will “benefit from income reimbursement from the first day of their stoppage of work, and at the latest until the end of the period of isolation,” the health ministry said in a statement.

Only one parent per household will be eligible for the help scheme, and only if they can document that their child's school or nursery closed down due to Covid-19, or that their child has been identified as a contact-case.

Higher education 

Late Tuesday, the University of Montpellier in southern France said it had suspended classes at its medical school after some 60 students tested positive after a party.

The University of Rennes in western France also suspended classes for second- and third-year medical students this week after 83 tested positive.

The government has placed 82 of the country's 101 departments on red alert, and officials in Bordeaux and Marseille this week tightened restrictions on public gatherings and retirement home visits after seeing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. 

READ ALSO: Why are Bordeaux and Marseille facing tougher Covid-19 restrictions but not Paris