French students set to take to streets over planned school reforms
French students and teachers are getting ready to take to the streets on Thursday in protest against the government's planned school reforms, including changes to the final high school exams and university admissions.
Published: 1 February 2018 11:59 CET
File photo: AFP
Demonstrations, rallies and strikes are planned across the country as students and teachers take a stand against French President Emmanuel Macron's proposed changes to France's education system.
The action has been prompted by this week's presentation of the government's proposed reforms to the baccalaureate — the final high school exams taken by students before they go to university, with critics saying that students will be forced to make career choices at too young an age.
High schools in Paris, Marseille, Lille and Lyon are set to take part in the “day of action”, according to student unions, as are students at Jean Jaurès university in Toulouse, Rennes II in Brittany and Jussieu in Paris.
Demonstrators are set to meet in Paris in front of Jussieu university at 2pm before walking to the Sorbonne, with other events organised in Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon and Strasbourg.
And there could be more in other major cities, according to the SNES-FSU union's Secretary General Hervé Christofol.
The overhaul of the baccalaureate was an election campaign promise of President Emmanuel Macron, with the French leader believing the current system fails to adequately prepare teenagers for university and the modern job market.
Several staff unions including the FSU, CGT, FO, SUD Education, as well as student unions including UNEF, Solidaires, SGL and UNL have come out against the changes.
In addition to forcing students into an important decision too early, those against the move say the ideal of scholastic equality is at risk, since wealthier students will probably be better prepared to navigate the choices now open to them than those in poorer areas. Increased tutoring is supposed to limit that risk, but many educators aren't convinced.
Meanwhile, the bill on access to university is currently before parliament. If it goes ahead it will remove the admissions system for universities and tighten entrance criteria.
But why does the government want to change the system?
Once in university, roughly 60 percent of students fail to secure their diplomas marking the first three years of study in France.
The proposed reform presented this week, which would halve the number of Bac tests to just five including a new 30 minute oral exam, aims to orientate students toward specific degrees sooner. The three broad subject choices — science, literature or social sciences — would also be eliminated.
Before their final year students would choose two specific “major” subjects as well as two “minors” alongside the standard curriculum — a system that will sound familiar to American college graduates. And instead of being based purely on results in the final exams, the new Bac grade would incorporate marks and test results obtained throughout the two final years of school.
Even class schedules will change by 2021 if the reforms are passed, with the year now divided into two semesters instead of three trimesters, and the tests spread over several months instead of a single week.
However, despite the “day of action” not everyone is against the changes.
The SNPDEN union, the largest for high school directors, called the proposals “a good basis for changing the baccalaureate for the better”.
French schools, renting property and vocabulary: 6 essential articles for life in France
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