Thursday, October 05, 2006

Oh happy school...

To date, I have been more-or-less impressed with the French education system. Despite reading François de Closets' 'Le bonheur d'apprendre and comment on l'assassine' which filled me with apprehension, I have had relatively little cause for concern.

It was thus with interest that I went along the other day to my eldest's parents' meeting, to be instructed on the workings of the CM2 curriculum (10yr olds). His maitresse is a very French lady. You could not imagine her being anything other than French, or a teacher. It's funny how teachers develop a look of the teacher about them. She is small, with a very long plait of hair which I should think she could sit on, but apparently she never sits so my eldest couldn't tell me if she can sit on it or not! She is also skinny in that scraggy French way, but I don't think she smokes. She isn't nut brown either, which is intriguing in itself.

I had a ferocious French teacher when I was about 14 who was small and French and female, and squat. Actually, come to think of it, I didn't have her, my elder brother did. I had her husband who was small and squat and English and kind. I got the soft option. He never forgave me for it.

Anyway, Mme de la C spoke for around 90 minutes explaining the whys and wherefores of her teaching philosophy, the demands of the curriculum and how the whole thing has been somewhat dumbed down (sound familiar?), although they have a mountain of work to get through before April. In April the teacher has to provide proof that the child can go through to 6ième and start collège the following year. It's very early to be making such a decision which is why there is such a scramble of work up until that time.

I got the message, therefore, that my eldest would be subjected to an amount of homework, which he could clear during étude at the end of the school day. This is a major relief to me, as getting him to do homework at home is such a struggle that it ruins the evening.

She insists that the children learn their lessons by heart as this is the only way to create automatisms which enable them to apply what they have learnt to problems or situations. I was less than impressed at the idea of all that rote learning until she said that its sole aim was proper application of what had been learnt without recours to textbooks the whole time. The link between memorising and understanding has thus been well-understood, which did surprise me actually.

Unfortunately the children do not get an opportunity to express themselves verbally in a creative way. They learn sentence structure and grammar, and apply it in strictly controlled text construction. The only chance they have for creativity is in arts plastiques. Here they are given a starting point which can be an item taken from a painting, and told to make something around that item. At the end, they are shown the original work of art. This is an interesting, intelligent way of linking their personal creativity to that of the great artists.

One major worry I had was that they would be spoon-fed their lessons from start to finish. Apparently this is not the case. The class starts with a blank board, and a lesson plan. The children provide input from the start, guided by the teacher, and by the end of the lesson, the blackboard is full. They take notes which they have to learn, and the pace is intensive and stimulating. Every so often when it gets too intense, the teacher relieves the atmosphere with a joke and off they go again.

I think my son is particularly lucky this year. He has a motivated teacher who is kind but firm and stands no nonsense. She is experienced, takes her vocation seriously, and lets no child get away with napping, shrinking or avoiding paying attention.

The amazing thing is, that my son thinks she's great and enjoys her classes. Last year he was not so lucky, and it caused both me and him much anguish.

Discipline, hard work, fairness. It's perfect for him.


  1. have you heard of Jean-Paul Brighelli and his famous book "Le fabrique du crétin?" He has a website:

    The education system "debate" seems to be more divided than in politics, neither side willing to budge a centimetre so creating a stalemate.

  2. correction LA fabrique...!

  3. Thanks for the link. I had a brief look and must go back. Education is obviously a thorny issue whatever the country.


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