Monday, January 30, 2006

Edikkating boys, wot?

My boys are going through the French education system in the local schools. My eldest is 9, in CM1 and he seems to be doing okay apart from the fact that he could try harder, but isn't that typical of boys?

However, I am wondering about how to save him from being a typical French student used to being spoon-fed at school and lacking the ability to think for himself. The internet is a wonderful resource for parents because it provides learning without trying too hard. My son considers it a tool for pleasure which means that he is happier to search for information using Google, than open a reference book. I'm trying to encourage him to apply what he learns outside school, too, but it's proving to be an uphill task.

As much of what is on the net is in English, I'm hoping he will also just fall into reading English as a natural progression of speaking. He does like to practice with me which is positive, and I must really set aside some time each week to do this. My aim is for him to read Harry Potter in English. I also believe that the more he reads, the better his grammar will be, so I will be on the lookout for exciting books for boys.

My youngest, nearly 5, is learning to write in school at the moment and tells me he wants to keep a blog. I told him he needs to learn to read first, but that he could definitely do that later on.

What worries me is that the French education system is in a crisis; teachers are depressed and kill the desire to learn in kids who are sometimes only mildly motivated to begin with to the extent that some never want to read a book again. I am lucky in that I live in a comfortable, prosperous area and I am counting, to some extent, on the fact that teachers have an easier time teaching in our local schools than elsewhere, so are hopefully not too jaded or embittered.

Basically, I'm trying to keep an eye out for problems, but if the boys can explore their interests at home, I believe they will survive their education. I think that is what most of us aspire to by the end of our school career.


  1. Hi, I have 2 girls at school here in France (CM2 & 5me) and have worked in English and French schools. I prefer the system here, the kids are expected to work hard and are exposed to lots of subjects, all carrying similar importance. Like you, we are lucky to be in a "nice" area so maybe that effects my opinion slightly.The spoon-feeding is a bit of a worry (I have seen the effects of this when lecturing to students here) but on balance, for my girls the French system has been excellent. They still read for pleasure in English as they say that even when it is a direct translation of for eg Jacqueline Wilson, it's just not the same!

  2. Do your kids have any English speaking friends? Or are you the sole voice of the English speaking world they hear?

  3. We have some friends locally who speak English but here in France we are the only native English speakers they hear regularly. They do however often travel to England and get to mix with lots of people there. Interestingly when they speak English they are completely English and when speaking French thay change completely into French girls - mannersims, attitude- everything. Oh, and they still watch British TV!

  4. I have several American and British friends as I work for an American company so the boys get lots of access to native English. They also have lots of videos in English, such as Thomas the Tank Engine, which are marvellous for vocab.
    I taught English for a while too, to students, and saw the effects of spoon-feeding too, hence my worries.
    Lisa, would you like them to go to university in the UK or France if they get the chance to go?

  5. I think that in the end it will probably be easier for them to go to University in France because they will have received the majority of their education here. Even though they use their English daily their written English skills are not as advanced as their reading and oral English. Also, my experience in France is that the students are highly motivated and produce work of a consistently high quality. They are also involved in lots of other projects and there seems to be a general ethos of working and playing hard. (Again, my experience here is of working in a "nice" University / Ecole Superieure so my view may be slightly coloured.) If they want to go to University in England because they had found the right course, I would be happy with that but I would be concerned to make sure that they had support for their English if it was required. I also think it would be quite a shock to their system in many ways, as having grown up in France the majority of their cultural references, certainly in relation to their peer group will be French regardless of growing up in an English family. We had french students at the university I worked at in England and they all said it was very different in the UK.
    Sorry, there was no short way of answering your question.

  6. I had an experience of a French university when I first came to France. I signed on to do a Maitrise at Clermont-Ferrand in English. I was appalled, frankly. It was over-crowded, there was little supervision and the building was a disgrace.
    I then taught at the law fac in Montpellier before they moved buildings and that was a shambles too. When I did my Masters in the UK, I had to use the library here, and was shocked by how few books there were. I read somewhere that French universities spend on books in 5years what British and German universities spend in one.
    My French experiences have been pretty negative compared to my UK ones, but I was not in a 'grand ecole' so maybe things are different there.
    My ex has always been pretty damning of ordinary university courses too (he's French), outside medicine, law and the like.

  7. Like I said, perhaps I have just been lucky but in comparison to many students I dealt with in the UK and the experiences of friends I have found the students here to be pretty good. The school is also in a realtivly new building, so that helps too. That said, we have sons going through the UK University system at the moment and they seem to be studying on excellent courses, which are run and resourced well and should come out with good degrees. In the end though, the decision will not really be mine, the girls will choose what is right for them (I hope).


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