French school year “lost” highlights the problems of its education system

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The French government, students, teachers and parents agree on one point: 2019-2020 was a lost school year. The Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, called it a “global educational disaster”.

Despite its promise to ensure “continuous pedagogy”, it took the Ministry of Education weeks after schools closed on March 16 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to organize classes using Zoom or to assign homework and send corrections by e-mail.

Digital education was hit and miss. Many families and teachers have moved to rural areas without broadband access. Families in immigrant suburbs were less likely to have the necessary high-tech equipment. Some shared a device between parents and several children. As printers were scarce, schools printed lessons that families would pick up.

All the ordinances came from the Ministry of Education, but parents and teachers complained that its instructions were inconsistent.

“They closed schools overnight, saying we were in danger,” a teacher in Paris called Mélodie told Le Monde in May. “Now they’re asking us to start over, almost overnight, as if there is no risk. Who and what are we supposed to believe?

The ministry reported that 4 percent of students, or about 500,000 young people, have simply dropped out due to school closings, although some teachers estimate that up to 30 percent of their students have disappeared from their radar. The dropout rate was 20% in vocational high schools, which enroll a high percentage of ethnic minorities.

Complex instructions on hygiene and social distancing reduced school attendance to as little as a day and a half a week

Many students had already missed weeks of classes due to transportation strikes last winter.

Some teachers have also dropped out. Géraldine, a Parisian mother of four children aged five to 13, complained about the disappearance of her daughter’s history and geography teacher while the coronavirus was locked.

“The ministry should have punished the teachers who went AWOL,” she said.

Reopening of schools

The decision to gradually reopen schools from mid-May was the biggest difference between France and Ireland. “Society has to get used to going back to school,” Blanquer said.

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