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.
Complex instructions on hygiene and social distancing reduced school attendance to a day and a half a week. Initially, 50% of teachers stayed at home, saying their health was in danger if they returned.
The government demanded 100% attendance at all schools during the last two weeks of June, when a poll published by Le Figaro showed 55% of parents were reluctant to send their children back to school. The ministry estimates that 80% of the students have returned.
Supporters of the reopening said it was important for children to see their friends and teachers, end the school year on a positive note and keep their studies in mind during the summer.
Opponents said there was no hope of making up three lost months in two weeks, and said the move was driven by the economic imperative to allow parents to return to work.
Digging the fracture
The most constant criticism of the education system during the lockdown has been that it widened the digital divide between the rich and the underprivileged, in a country which, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, already has one of the highest rates in the world. inequalities in education.
At the start of the lockdown, the Ministry of Education asked the students to be “hardworking” in the pursuit of their normal studies. However, in June, the ministry announced that none of the work done during the lockdown would be counted.
Caitríona, a 50-year-old Irish educator who has lived in France for 30 years, was furious. Geneviève, her 15-year-old daughter, had done a lot of homework.
“She worked so hard for nothing. There was a lot of pressure. They continued to give timed sequence exams that would not be uploaded, such as a two hour math exam. She was getting good grades and it was good for her self-esteem. But coming out the other side and saying it was all for nothing sent the wrong signals on so many levels.
The French should have used television, as the Republic did, because the broadcasts would have been much more accessible than on the internet, Caitríona said.
In a study by the University of Bordeaux, 45 percent of wealthy households reported having the technological means of home schooling during foreclosure, compared to 31 percent of low-income families.
Content was also an issue. On a hot day, Caitríona heard a neighbor get excited as she gave her eight-year-old son a dictation on the balcony. “His writing was bad. His spelling was wrong. You could hear his frustration. ”
The French have decided not to organize baccalaureate exams this year. Rather, the final marks were decided by a jury based on the marks during the first terms of the school year.
The Irish have shown greater adaptability, said Caitríona. “France is a country of structure and rigidity. They seem unable to think outside the box. They reacted by applying the same rules in extraordinary circumstances, for example by giving frequent reviews. They needed to invent new ways of teaching and they failed to do so. “
A blunder by government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye at the end of March inflamed the usually poor relations between government and teachers. Referring to a shortage of workers to harvest fruits and vegetables, Ndiaye said: “We do not intend to ask a teacher who is not working because schools are closed to cross France to pick strawberries . “
Hours later, Ndiaye apologized for saying the teachers were not working.
France, like the Republic, debated the advisability of organizing national secondary exams. A reform of French high schools that places greater importance on continuous assessment was already underway when the coronavirus struck.
Finally, the French decided not to take the baccalaureate exams this year. The final marks were rather decided by a jury on the basis of the marks obtained during the first trimesters of the school year. The Ministry of Education asked the juries to be “kind” during this process. The results published on July 7 show that 91.5% of students in the final year passed, a historic record in France.
Blanquer recommends “apprenticeship vacations” for 700,000 disadvantaged young people this summer.
Meanwhile, a quarter of French teachers are not comfortable with digital technology. It is recognized that they need to be trained, that teachers and disadvantaged children need computers and that broadband access must be extended in the event of a new wave of the epidemic.
September will be a time of assessment and evaluation, says Blanquer. No one believes that France can make up for the lost year.