Friday, February 02, 2007

To Russia at 10

For some of this afternoon, I was wondering whether to go to an event organised by the local 'best' public lycée on Russian.

It's well known that to get your child into the best public schools you have to pretend they are dying to learn an off-beat language such as Japanese or Russian. My eldest has not yet entered collège, and yet I am receiving brochures on round tables about Russia, learning Russian, and the advantages thereof.

I was perplexed, to say the least. The round table would start at 3.30pm, a time when I am at work. It would be followed by a performance of poetry recitals and songs in Russian by the pupils of the lycée. The event would round off with a gouter of Russian goodies prepared by the pupils from recipes previously handed out.

But why me? My son is not yet of the age to consider such options. He was telling me he'd like to study German at collège next year. All the pupils in his class were given the brochure, and perhaps all the non-working keenly ambitious mummies would have attended the round table, notebook in perfectly manicured hand.

I was talking to NG who has already been through the education treadmill with her now grown-up children, and she was telling me that schools like that prepare the brightest and best in the public system for prépa exams, cultivating them like hot-house plants and preventing them from enjoying themselves. Not really what I had in mind for my eldest...

In any case, I am more enthusiastic about him going to university, if he wishes, in the UK rather than France. At least there he'll be assured of a student-centred structure; tutoring, mentoring, and also FUN. French universities are not renowned for their extra-curricula activities, and my ex-h says that you're a loser if you're not in a grande école or doing a professional subject like medecine or law. With an attitude like that, I'd rather my eldest studied what he wants in an environment that won't despise you because you're not an ENARC.

I'd be interested to hear what other parents of kids in France think about this thorny subject. Am I over-reacting, or are my thoughts similar to most parents concerned about the oddities of the French system, and especially the prospects of our kids once they've been through it. I'm thinking of the difficulties young people have of finding real jobs, the 300,000 French people who've moved to London to work and set up businesses, and the unwillingness of companies to take on un-sackable, costly staff.

I'm not exactly losing sleep over it, but when I get given leaflets on learning Russian in lycée when my son is only 10, it sets off a chain reaction of projecting and concern.


  1. I just composed a carefully considered bit of advice, based on putting three kids through University, and it disappeared when I tried to send. Thanks Blogger.

  2. Smart blogger. Cuts out the crap.

  3. Richard seems to be having one of his bad days.

    Thank God it's not a leap year. I don't think I could cope with 366 of them.

    PS How's Mein Bumph progressing ? I'm trying to picture it - in the remaindered bin...

  4. Here in the Paris suburbs, Russian is now commonplace in schools to stop parents using it as an excuse to get their kids into 'better' secondary schools. Personally, I want my kids to learn a foreign language (only English at the mo.) but don't want to torture them with either Russian (difficult and teacher is mad) or German (not very useful and teacher has a penchant for the bottle!) So far haven't found a public school that proposes Spanish as a first language in my area so considering them doing English as a first language and Spanish as a second - as of next Sept the second language will be introduced in 5ème and will be obligatory for the bac.

  5. The English get themselves in a complete mess with French education because they can’t understand a few simple principles :
    Université does not mean University. The Sorbonne is not the French equivalent of Oxbridge.
    Ecole des mines does not mean that you learn mining.
    Grande Ecole does not mean Big School

    The collective group of Grandes et Petites écoles and Ecoles de Commerce give a tremendous choice of excellent undergraduate education. The big English hang-up is yes, but it is not university. Yes they are universities. With all the benefits you attribute to good universities including extracurricular activities.

    French universities lost out in (I think) the 19th century when they were too attached to the church and the establishment. It’s just like England decided to create a new upper tier of further education, reduced investment in the universities, set up new colleges and called them ‘super colleges’. A nice thing about all these French ‘super colleges’ is they have extraordinary contacts with their regions (who help finance them) and previous students.

    Admittedly it is a little more complicated because the universités do tend to dominate the research (though there are many other institutions as well). So the pupils of the Grandes Ecoles, who want to go into research, may go back to université for their Phd

    If you want your child to have the best chance to succeed and he has the aptitude, then the very best thing to do is, like every other country in the world, get him the best CV with Grandes Ecoles, Petites Ecoles, HEC, Subdeco.

    To get into the ‘super colleges’ the best way for academically bright kids is to do prepa. which is like a sixth form college. They prepare for the competitive exams for the ‘super colleges’. It is in fact identical to the Oxbridge system of 30 years ago when the best schools prepared the kids for the Oxbridge entry exams. (they may still do it for all I know)

    To get into prepa. you need a good bac. The best way to get a good bac is to go into a ‘boite à bac’ which are the’ best lycées’ for academically bright kids. Hence the trick of learning Russian in order to get into the ‘best’ state Lycées. Though you can also send your child to a good private school where the fees are very modest.

    If your child has the academic aptitude then it is a really excellent idea to follow the path of the elite.

    Neither of my children are outstanding academically, and since I find (some may already know this) the survival of the fittest, ‘free trade’, capitalistic system repulsive we provided continuous support to our children but no force feeding.

    One got an acceptable general Bac (he was borderline prepa), the other a good technical Bac. They both went to université for a 2 year technical Deug (this has now changed to 3 years Europe oblige) One was then accepted into one of the smaller Grandes Ecoles (an alternative entry route to prepa, 20% of his year went this route) where he had a type of MBA training with technology added (he could have chosen other options eg environment, nuclear power etc etc). The other stayed in université and got a master in computer technology.

    They both got jobs quickly after leaving school, first CDD then CDI, in good companies and are living happily in Paris. They come home to see their adoring and lovely parents frequently. They have both been to London often, don’t like the weather, food, nor culture.

    In French education there are many options and it’s for you to choose the best one for your kids, not necessarily the trajectory of the academically gifted. For the English it is very difficult to understand, because they come over here thinking everybody should do things their way and have a closed mind to different cultures.

  6. Thank you Richard for your thoughts and experience. I suppose my ex-h is a bit spécial, being a French surgeon and very snotty about les universités.

    I must say, I started a maitrise in Clermont-Ferrand and was appalled at the vestusté of the buildings, the lack of books, the crowded lectures and the lack of tutoring. When I went back to Bristol to do a Masters, I had all the books I needed, but when I came back to France to finish my thesis I was told I'd have to go to Fontainebleu to find a well-stocked library in business. From Montpellier, this is quite a trek.

    So, I have French influence in the boys' futures - don't worry, they won't be left to the horrors of my 'closed mind'. I just want them to study the subject they want to study without losing 3 years of their young adulthood to overheated academia. I've seen friends say they missed out on so much in their late teens early 20s because all they did all day and night was study.

    By the way, mine love going to London, don't mind the weather and appreciate the culture.

  7. wuhkhPoor Richard he does blab on a bit about what he does not really know about. How long has he been pretending to be french? Well, try being really french...I went to en English Public School, and afterwards did medical studies. I can compare the systems only vaguely for in France, my children and I only had private tuition in good private schools, which cuts all the speciality of French rat-racre-leaving-folk on the floor out!

    My friends who were unfortunate enough to go thru a French University say the same as Sarah's ex. Get on on your own mate, or don't, so what?

    As far as Supdeco is concerned and similar - you better be in the money - and I know what I'm talking about!!


  8. I am not pretending to be French. Humiliatingly I am one of the know all Anglo Saxons.

    Let’s stop comparing apples with oranges. About 10% of English children go to universities and pay high tuition costs. Every French child who gets the bac (60%?) can go to universités for practically nothing. The comparison is about as intelligent as comparing higher education colleges with collèges for 10 year olds and saying its stupid to send young kids to college. The UK is an exclusive education system sorting the chaff from the straw, France is inclusive. The snobs may not like it, but I do.

    Maybe SUPDECO is expensive. But English universities are expensive. The students are leaving with big debts. My son went to a lesser Grande Ecole and I paid practically nothing, 10 times less than a top UK university with equivalent education. I also went to stay several nights in the comfortable room for visitors and that cost very little as well.

    I’m not sure what your point is about French private schools. I certainly know a lot of teachers in these schools. I used both private and public for my kids. As you know a lot of poor people use the private schools to get their kids a better education since the cost is so low. Here in Orléans many Muslim immigrants send their children to the Christian private schools because of the better discipline.

    Over to you la spécialiste.

  9. Wot, no posts since Friday, Sarah ?
    What's this ? Burnout ?
    C'mon. Finish that G&T and get writing.

  10. Richard of Orléans is totally out of date. About 50% of British school leavers go to university these days.

    It doesn't matter which country you are in - you should always try to go to the best university (or whatever undergraduate institues of higher education are called locally) you can. My husband went to ESSEC, my brother-in-law to HEC, my best friend to Normale and all my friends and acquaintances in France went to Grandes Ecoles and had a great time and have great jobs and standard of living. Prépa is a pain and really hard work, but not Grande Ecole.

  11. I admit I was shooting from the hip on my 10%, but it certainlyt isn't 50% as this article shows.
    Un récent article du Guardian ("Postcode lottery for university entrants") se fait l'écho de la publication d'un rapport par le Conseil pour l'enseignement supérieur anglais (HEFCE) sur l'inégalité des chances concernant l'accession des jeunes à l'université.
    "L'étude [..] révèle que les 20% des jeunes gens les plus avantagés ont six fois plus de chances d'accéder à l'enseignement supérieur que les 20% les moins avantagés".
    Menée de 1994 à 2000 l'enquête montre, en outre, que "les inégalités régionales s'amplifient" en précisant que "les jeunes gens qui vivent à Londres ont 50% plus de chances d'aller à l'université que ceux habitant dans le nord-est". Les auteurs affirment, en outre, que ces disparités deviennent plus criantes lorsque l'échelle d'analyse est réglée sur les districts. Ainsi, les jeunes gens issus des quartiers aisés dépassent les 50% de chances et ceux des quartiers défavorisés ont seulement 10% de chances de poursuivre dans le supérieur.

  12. you are right Anna, Grandes Ecoles are fun...but you are also right to say that Richard d'Orleans is perhaps out of date...out of date with the Brit system which he probably left a long time ago.

    All my friends and family who went to Grande Ecoles here loved it, HEC, ASSAS, ESSEC et tutti quanti.

    Those I know who went to Brit Universities all seemed to have had a super time and super "soutien" in them. They tell me about "mentors" who check up on their work, their morale and their progress etc. Here in ordinary Universities, no such thing apparently.

    A very different way than in ordinary Universities here where no one seems to bother who they are or what they do or how they are doing.

    However, and once again, all those I know who went to Grandes Ecoles had a super time, were very much in hand morally and intellectually, and stimulated by their colleagues too - emulation. But as you also said, they without exception thought that prepa was a pain!

    It is the same in medical school - the first year is so awful you really wonder if they are not trying to put you off becoming a specialiste - or even a doctor at all! If you survive the first year - you deserve to be a doctor!!!! Of course things may have changed, because I'm quite an old biddy. At my time, they were even furious that you were a woman! I don't think any of you more modern and active girls can imagine what we had to go thru in a 'man's' world to get there - be twice as good to get half so far, actually! And all the way those "gentlemen" were waiting to trip you up to punish you for having dared go into their practically 100% male institution!!

    Even now - I don't know many female surgeons, do you?


  13. No, it's not 10%, Richard, but a lot closer to that 50%.

    Here's the reference to that
    Guardian article
    As you will see, it's presently up at 43%. Sure, there's a lot of stuff in that article about regional disparities, as the title indicates, but your dwelling on that aspect is pure flannel.

    Once again, it's Richard of Orléans just making up the facts as he goes along to suit whatever crap argument he is trying to put forward, or "shooting from the hip" as he calls it. "Bullshitting" is another expression that springs to mind.

  14. Where's your proof of 43%? I'm talking about universities not higher education.

  15. OK I got it, it's 30%

    The research found that overall about 30% went to university in 2000, the last year of the study - an increase of only two percentage points over the seven years of the study. In the seven years before the study participation rates doubled

    So it is much lower than French universités. In addition as we know a lot of UK students are complaining that they have big debts at the end of their education.

    Anyway my point was, to consider universités as the French equivalent of university is inaccurate.

  16. Read down a bit further in the article, Richard (which, incidentally, was the one you cited) and here's what it says:

    Taking into account older students, about 43% of 18- to 30-year-olds currently have been or are at university, seven percentage points short of the 2010 target.

    At university, note, not higher education. Facts, Richard, facts !

  17. And you need a Phd to figure out how you can come up with the two different figures in the same report.

  18. Sure, there are two different figures in the Guardian's article:

    30% went to Uni in 2000, the end of the study period

    But 43% now go to Uni, approx 6-7 years later.

    Since when has one needed a PhD to know things can change over time - or to read a newspaper ?

  19. You could say that somebody who claims that 6 or 7 years have elapsed between the year 2000 and January 20, 2005(the date of the article)is arithmetically challenged.

    This is not so. It requires a Phd in anthropology to understand that primitive societies have a different concept of time. They believe that what they read is true today, they have no concept of the passing of time. Hence the British Government still uses the Doomesday Book for managing the country. It being updated as it is read. It was also the last attempt by the British Government to produce reliable statistics.

    How quaint you will say that such societies still exist. Well, not exactly, there is quaint and quaint. Nobody will regret the passing of the bubonic plague.


Comments are bienvenue.