Sunday, September 07, 2008

Are they having fun yet?

(Example of a French high school student's schedule -- click to enlarge)

Oh, there are plenty of good things to say about the French public school system. But today, I'll be leaving it up to my readers to say them.

While one of my daughters is discovering the joys of finishing her school day at 2:37 pm, the other is gritting her teeth and bracing herself for another year of the 35-hour workweek -- 35 hours a week of class, that is.

She doesn't have it quite as tough as the student above who finished four days a week at 6:00 pm or 7:00 pm. My eldest will be getting out of class twice a week at 5:00 pm, twice a week at 6:00 pm, and at 11:00 am on Wednesdays. (High schools and middle schools do, mercifully, have Wednesday afternoons off.)

Is she having fun yet? Well, "fun" and "school" don't seem to be associated very often in France. And maybe they shouldn't be. American schools, with their pep assemblies and dress-up days, must look absolutely ridiculous to French educators.

And as a teacher, I certainly know that learning isn't a Disney ride.

But I do wonder what added value is France getting out of a high school system where students have to be in class as many hours a week as many French employees work, and then are expected to slog through a ludicrously huge homework load on the side.

What do you think?


21 comments:

spacedlaw said...

Only 35 hours? That's lenient: I used to have 39 to 41, working on Saturday morning too.
I went to spend a year as a senior in a high school of NC before getting into university and not only found the schedule very light (despite an earlier start to the classes in the morning) but also found the classes there extremely easy.
The exams in particular: Mostly they were made of multiple answers quizzes instead of the lengthy papers that needed (need still?) to be written by French students.
I loved that sport was mostly optional - something you did do after the classes - since I had always hated it and had been made to suffer the few hours of physical education we got all through school.

Betty C. said...

Spaced -- I think 15% of French schools were still having class on Saturday morning up until recently, but that was eliminated this year.

Were the 39-41 hours in France?

Betty C. said...

Spaced -- I think 15% of French schools were still having class on Saturday morning up until recently, but that was eliminated this year.

Were the 39-41 hours in France?

Megan said...

I think the french school system is ridiculous. I think you can get just as good of an education at an American high school IF YOU WANT TO. I took AP calculus and english my Senior year, physics, etc. and still managed to be on the dance squad and have a fun life. For god's sake, they have the rest of their life for suckage, why not just be able to enjoy one last hoorah of fun before entering the real world?

Tinsie said...

Hmmm having done most of my studying in Greece, I don't find this too onerous. When I was at high school, we started around 8:25 AM and finished just before 2 PM (without a lunch break) then we had 2-3 hours of tutorials or additional classes, like languages or music or extra latin or maths etc. And we had homework on top!

It's tough being a student :-)

tut-tut said...

It's a different world over here; we had to pull out of the public school system in seventh grade for private school, a costly decision that we felt just wasn't an option. But the science teacher was falling asleep in class, and the French teacher was selling Mary Kay, etc. etc.

As a high schooler, I would have liked taking Greek and Latin, not to mention philosophy.

spacedlaw said...

It was.
I had far less hours in NC, to my utter delight.

screamish said...

yeah it's tough here...they work hard. I don't think it's necessarimy bad, it depends on the school and the support and the capacity of the kids.

One thing that bothers me is the other end of the system where people are too afraid to take a year off between school and uni to travel or work. Lots of higher education is closed to older students- there really seems to be a fear that you'll get left behind, and a belief that if you take a gap year or do something different your CV will be crap.

I think it's the natural result of this high pressure system. Nothing like the Japanese of course! but French kids don't have much imagination at 18 or 19 they've still intellectually immature despite their quality education...can't question or think for themselves, too busy studying to pass the next controle.

christina said...

Oh my. That's harsh. Is each class period a full hour, or does it just look that way?

I think we have it a bit better. In Germany the classes are 45 mins. long. I just looked at my kids's schedules: 12 yr old in grade 7 has 32 hours and 15 yr old in 10th grade has 35 so it's between 6 and 8 class periods a day with very short breaks (lunch break is only 20 mins!) and they're home either by 2 or 4 p.m. depending what's on.

Clare said...

As this is the only the beginning of the first full week, it's difficult to say how she's doing. For the first time at collége she has a full timetable. Only one hour of etude, whereas last year she had loads.

I think it is going to get to her, but as far as I am concerned the more hours spent in the classroom and less in the "etude" room the better, especially after the worst note ever last year.

What do we think of the French system? Put it this way - no way would I educate a child in the UK!

Betty C. said...

A lot of interesting comments here. Obviously there are a lot of problems in the UK and US school systems. I was lucky enough to go to great schools in the USA, and that is the type of school my youngest is going to this year, so some of my comparing may be unfair.

It seems like a lot of kids have around 35 hours of class a week -- of course in France, the sacred Wednesday afternoon off is nice in a way, but it's part of what makes the days so long too. I might prefer their not having Wednesday off and finishing at four every day.

As for class length, some are an hour, others two. This year most of my daughters classes are two hours long and one is actually three! She has one-hour classes on Monday only -- but that's just her schedule, I can't generalize about the French system.

spacedlaw said...

However, finishing at 16:00, might be a problem for parents who have to (or fell that they have to) come and pick up their children from school: If the kids and parents finish their work days at the same time, less trouble ensues (see, we have no - or very little - school bus system. I was lucky because I could walk (20 to 30 minutes) or take public transport but not everybody is that fortunate.

Class duration is normally 55 minutes, so students can go to the bathroom or change classroom in between. There is also a break round 10:00 in the morning and another one in the afternoon (around 16:00 if memory serves me well).

Nicole said...

This is a topic my mom and I often discuss. We had an exchange student (who is now like a 4th sister to me) from Italy living with us for a year a while back. Here high school experience here was so different than that at home.

My mom is appalled at how often it seems my sisters kids are dressing up or doing a play or something at school despite the fact that it is related to the lessons. Granted they are all under 11 years old. But it seems like there is so much play time and silliness going on.

That being said. Children are said learn best through play and creative time in many studies. But need structure later.

And I wouldn't give up the school dances and proms and football games (even though I am not a sports fan). My high school is still close and I think better long-term friendships may be made. A real sense of community in my school. Unlike a job.

We were at private school but the hours and "fun" time was close to the public schools here in California. And ... you should see the colleges some of my peers and my sisters peers went on to. You should see some of the current jobs they have!!! WOW! Reads like a who's who or a magazine article on fun and successful people and jobs!

Can there be a happy medium?

wcs said...

Wow, all those languages and only one day of maths? Is that imposed or by choice, I wonder?

Why, when I was a lad we had to walk to school through ten foot snowdrifts, uphill, both ways. ;)

Betty C. said...

wcs -- The example schedule I stole of Internet was for a student in the "L" section, doing a "Baccalauréat Littéraire." Actually, the French system generally places a huge emphasis on math, especially in junior high and in sophomore year. After that, the students specialize and will have a lot of math if they do some BACs, less if they do others.

The Duchess said...

I agree with Screamish; the most frustrating part of being an English assistant at a lycee for 2 years was seeing the 18-yr olds uttering sentences like sheep and never thinking out of the box.
The academic system here is harsh, unrelenting, and rigid. This suits some kids and not others.
I'd like to think that when my girls are at such an age, they'll always have the option of going to the UK or the States for higher education, if that's what they want to do.
I did enjoy cheerleading and sports, but part of me wishes my school would have offered Greek or Arabic!

Cécy said...

The French system is very rigid indeed. You learn yes, but if you are in a normal lycée you learn very general things that won't lead you anywhere.
After graduating in France I spent one year in an american high school. I was amazed at the oppotunities thoses kids had to take classes where they learn things with their hands, options to figure out what they like and help them choose the right studies after that.
Sometimes it was silly though, the social life is sometiemes pushed too far. So many girls who can only focus on what they look like, the jokes, the preps, and the other lablels. I felt more equal with my class mates in France. Sure there are the artistic crew; the math crew; the few goth and all, but nothing like what I saw in the US.
I don't think either one prepares you best for the real world. American high school is a party place compare to the work world. French high school is far to rigid and doesn't teach you anything worth getting a job right after you graduate.

spacedlaw: your memory of periods lenght and breaks is the same as mine. The school bus system varies depending on departement and how much money they can put into it. In Haute-Garonne we had a great and free school bus system.

angela said...

Show me a country with a perfect education system and I'll move there!
The work load at french colleges and lycees is ludicrous when you consider that they do and redo the same stuff year after year...my kids studied the french revolution three years in a row for example. However, holidays are fairly long in comparison with the UK where the school days are shorter.

My children learned rigour and how to work hard from the French system. Their work, especially in maths and science deteriorated when they moved into the international system though they found the intnl school ambiance more to their liking...so even though I taught in one country and my children experienced two different systems I'd be hard pressed to say which is best.

Betty C. said...

Angela,

I agree, no place is perfect. I'm actually surprised how many comments I got on this post defending the French system. I think my feelings may be more personal -- I hate to see my daughter so stressed and tired all of the time, and can't help compare it to the "fun" of senior year in the USA (where I actually worked very hard as a student.)

I also know my experiences with the US school system were all in excellent school districts, so my vision is a little biased.

But I still maintain that the school days are just too long, even if the vacations are nice (and a lot of French journalists and educational specialists agree.)

Betty C. said...

Angela,

I agree, no place is perfect. I'm actually surprised how many comments I got on this post defending the French system. I think my feelings may be more personal -- I hate to see my daughter so stressed and tired all of the time, and can't help compare it to the "fun" of senior year in the USA (where I actually worked very hard as a student.)

I also know my experiences with the US school system were all in excellent school districts, so my vision is a little biased.

But I still maintain that the school days are just too long, even if the vacations are nice (and a lot of French journalists and educational specialists agree.)

Betty C. said...

Angela,

I agree, no place is perfect. I'm actually surprised how many comments I got on this post defending the French system. I think my feelings may be more personal -- I hate to see my daughter so stressed and tired all of the time, and can't help compare it to the "fun" of senior year in the USA (where I actually worked very hard as a student.)

I also know my experiences with the US school system were all in excellent school districts, so my vision is a little biased.

But I still maintain that the school days are just too long, even if the vacations are nice (and a lot of French journalists and educational specialists agree.)