Napoleon is known for his creation of the lycée, but Jules Ferry wins all the honors for being reputed as the father of the French modern school. The school he established was free, secular and compulsory, even to this day, until the age of 13 (now increased to 16). This has been the profile of French education since 1882.
An overview of education in France
It was widely believed in the past that France’s education system was the best in the world. Now, the claim needs to be clearly proven in the face of better education systems elsewhere. France’s education system has been rated as the 25th best in the world by the OEDC coordinated Programme for International Student Assessment. The system’s achievements are neither very much higher nor lower than the average results of the OECD.
The education system is divided mainly into primary, secondary and tertiary with the first two predominantly public as they are run by the Ministry of National Education.
Education in France begins with daycare centers known locally as crèches. The centers care for babies from 2 months to 3 years until they are able to attend Ecole Maternelle, the next level up the ladder. Several types of these care centers offer different services, sizes and management assistance to as many as 10 to 60 children but they all require parents to help them. More than 11,000 Crèches operate in France today but even with the numbers.
It is advised to apply for slots in the centers as soon as couples become pregnant.
Primary and secondary education
Primary education in France is no different from other countries where literacy and numeracy are given, supplemented with French, arithmetic, geography, history, the arts and now, a foreign language, usually English. Unisma Classes here take place Monday to Saturday morning but from September 2008, the class on Saturday morning was discontinued. Classes average 28 hours in duration each week and are divided into five different sections – the CP, CE1, CE1, CM1 and CM2. In French, CP means “Cours préparatoire” or preparatory class; CE refers to “Cours élémentaire” or elementary class while CM signifies Cours moven, or middle school. The two CM sections prepare students for the middle school.
College or middle school education
The college level is divided into 4 divisions and caters for students aged 11-15. It is the core foundation of the French education system. All students enter the college at the age of 11 but sometimes attend at an older age if a student repeated a year at primary level. The goal of the college is to provide a foundation of secondary education to students and thereafter, some degree of specialization in specific areas of interest. From college, students then progress to the lycée level upon passing an examination called the “brevet” after which they either stop their education or continue to the “lycée professionnel” level or vocational high school. Subjects offered at this level includes French, mathematics, history, geography, technical education, art/music, physical education, civic education, some science and one foreign language.
The lycée or vocational education
This is the equivalent of High School and embodies the last 3 years of secondary education. There are two main types – the lycée general and the lycée technique – and both are found in the larger towns and cities. In the smaller towns the latter school may be absent. The goal of the lycée level is to prepare students to sit the bacclaurét examination which is equivalent to the British A levels. The subjects offered are similar to those in the college or middle schools but with the addition of philosophy in the final year.
The academic institutions of higher learning in France are divided into two main camps of the public universities and the renowned but selective and prestigious Grandes écoles the most notable being the Science Po Paris established for political studies; the HEC Paris with its corridors of economic learning; the École nationale supérieure des mines de Paris for high quality engineers or the Ecole nationale d’administration for government positions. Elitism has filtered into the halls of the Gandes ecoles for which it has been criticized but it has proven its value in creating many of France’s high profile civil servants, CEOs and politicians.