Sunday, January 16, 2011

A little French system out...there's some edubabble coming at ya!

I am trying to do other things here in France than be a tourist and a French housewife! This week, I met the principal of the school where Steven goes and when I return from England, I will be spending some time observing some science classes and possibly trying to do a lesson. But, the most interesting thing was that I spent time in what is called the BDI (Bureau d’Information= Information Office) with Steff while she helped students in the school try to figure out their school/career paths. I am trying to understand the French educational system and as a teacher, I am always curious to see how other countries do things.

I’ll be really interested to see what the pedagogy is like in the science classroom. I do know that Steven hates science, which always is sad to hear from a kid who is not even 12 and should still be getting to make cool discoveries and find wonder in the world. So, because, really, I started this blog for my India trip where my main purpose was to learn about the educational system in India, I will again try to get my thoughts clear on a “système scolaire” through blogging- this time for France.

The main levels are divided into primary school which goes until about age 10-11ish, then collège which starts at about age 11 to 15/16ish and then lycée which is is the last 2-3 years of school depending on which route you take. Up until the end of collège, there is a common curriculum. I am not totally clear if it is a full-on national curriculum like in England- or more regional- and Steff didn’t know because Steven’s school is private/Catholic. I will be asking the teachers/principal when I get an opportunity to speak with them about how they go about planning. (Aren’t I so professionally nosy and annoying???)

What I found really interesting is that there are several different types of lycées and this is what Steff was doing in the BDI- helping kids determine which path works best for them. I imagine in American high schools, there is a similar thing going on with course selection but France seems to have many more vocational options that have been phased out of American schools. But, given the pendulum swing of education, they will probably swing right back in…


So, from what I can see and understand, there are three main “college (as in university) prep” tracks. All the tracks (college prep and otherwise) are called a “Baccalaureate” and there are three main types of ‘Bac-General’ for those who are more academically inclined. In fact, the poster for these three explains that these are for students who:

-enjoy abstract theory

-like to reflect, analyze, and synthesize

-like to argue & discuss

-find personal work important

The three tracks of Bac-General are: Bac ES- economics/social; Bac L- Languages & Literature; Bac S- Sciences. Interestingly, all of these tracks usually require students to follow at least two foreign languages as well as their main courses of study. I do think the American system really falls short on foreign language instruction. Some kids don’t even start a foreign language until high school, which, in my opinion, is way too late.

If kids are interested in careers that require a university degree and have the scholastic aptitude to survive in one of the three tracks, they are encouraged to complete this type of Bac. Really, with the Bac-General, they have the most options after they finish and so kids who are really undecided are encouraged to go this way if they are academically inclined at all.


The next type of Bac is called the Bac-Techno (Technical Baccalaureate) and can also be a university track but is more focused on hands-on learning than theory. It is advertised for kids who like:

-applied learning

-observation & experimentation

-group & solo work

-practicals, labs, computer simulations

The more science related choices within this Bac are very focused on the integration of technology into the courses but still require kids to follow at least one foreign language. I was reading about one of the science tracks and they still have to take a lot of theoretical chemistry, biology, and physics, but they also take cool classes like biotechnology and study renewable energy in theory and practice. There are also more vocational options within the Bac-Techno if someone is interested in that too.


The Bac-Pro (Professional Baccalaureate) is a vocational track that is housed in schools called Lycées Professionals and are for those students who are less academically inclined but who are trying to get a qualification and/or learn a specific trade. There is a Lycée Professional right down the street from my house here and the dad of my family knows some people there (because he builds houses and so he knows some of the teachers because he’s worked with them) and I am going to spend a few days observing there too!

But, again, the kids at the vocational school still have to take English, French, and Math with their vocational courses. I know that there used to be more schools like this in the US and also more vocational programs within high schools (I remember the art room in my high school used to be the auto shop) but why have these gone away? Could we retain more students in school if these types of programs were available to them? Just a thought.


This is the final option for kids and honestly, I am unsure of the acronym…I barely have learned the English system acronyms, let alone the ones in a foreign language. But this option is not a Bac and it is a way for kids to enter directly into a job. I would assume that this option would be for the least academically inclined group of kids.

So, I hope I haven’t bored you to death. To me, this stuff is really interesting. I am still unsure of where and when they take big exams but I know they have them. Also, they don’t have school on Wednesdays, and because my French isn’t that great, I am unclear from my discussions with Steff whether this is the whole country, just in Bretagne, or just at their private school. But, they do have longer days- start at 8:30 until about 4:30ish. They have a much longer lunch though than in American schools too because French people do not like to eat quickly. They’d never abide our 30 minute snarf.

1 comment:

Sheila said...


This is actually very fascinating to me in my new job as Director of Secondary Ed. We are working on our ICAP - Individual Career Academic Plan, which starts in sixth grade for our students. They register with College in Colorado and begin planning for their post secondary opportunities. I am amazed with the leveled tracking. I wonder how successful it is for the French? Best of Luck to you! Sheila