Nothing is worse than acting in a hurry, without means or reflection. And the reforms proposed for French national education today, however attractive they may seem, will, when analyzed later, be denounced as reactionary and old-fashioned.
On the face of it, they are seductive: no one can be against a project aimed at allowing students to work at their own level, granting more resources to students in difficulty, restoring the meaning of examinations, and giving the educational community the power to make a student repeat a year.
But what will actually happen?
Since we don’t dare touch the heart of public spending on education, we’ll take from some to give to others, as we did with the doubling up of nursery classes, financed by a reduction in resources for secondary schools, or the raising of a few teachers’ salaries, financed by a smaller increase in the remuneration of other teachers. Once again, the most likely outcome is that we won’t find the money to improve the training of the weakest, and that we won’t dare reduce the resources devoted to the best. The result will be an education system that is even more reactionary than it is today, and even less capable of restoring equality of opportunity.
Touching on the essentials would mean, for example, reducing the resources devoted to administrative functions in education, and tackling the dispersal of resources linked to the existence of five levels of local government involved. While France’s education budget is higher than Germany’s, its administrative costs are four times higher than Germany’s, and its teachers are paid half as much (in 2021, a secondary school teacher with 15 years’ experience would earn 43,000 euros a year in France, compared with 95,000 euros in Germany). In total, Germany devotes over 50% of its highly decentralized education budget to teacher salaries, while France allocates just 31%. And as this structure of expenditure will not be touched, it is, once again, from the resources devoted to the weakest that the means of this new reform will be taken. That’s why it’s a reactionary reform.
And it’s also an old-fashioned reform:
Because it reinforces the hierarchical and vertical, basing itself on the model of Singapore, the big winner of the latest PISA rankings, whose competitive and disciplinary methods are praised, while refusing to see that the education system in this country has just switched to the Finnish model, with its emphasis on learning creativity, reflexivity and cooperation; that primary and secondary schools are now given much greater autonomy, while demanding improved results; and that priority is now given to training teachers in cooperative pedagogical practices, without cramming students full of knowledge to be learned by heart; with the new watchword: “teach less and learn more”.
Because it doesn’t take into account the most recent advances in pedagogy on the essential role of parents (for this, it would suffice, for example, to learn about the extraordinary successes of Professor Jérémie Fontanieu in Drancy, whose teaching method is based on this) ; on the role of the best to teach the less good (it’s precisely when a good student teaches a less good one that both progress, as shown, for example, by the highly innovative work initiated by a small French EdTech company, Revyze, based on revolutionary new practices in the USA, Canada and Northern Europe); on the role of neuroscience, which highlights the importance of team learning in brain development; on the role of sports and arts education.
All in all, we fail to see that the future of knowledge transmission is no longer limited to what takes place within the walls of the school, but must include, in a “hybrid school”, what we learn in the family, in extracurricular activities, via podcasts, social networks and video games.
All this is a matter of courage: if we don’t have the courage to really strike at the nature of spending, to reduce the weight of administrative expenditure, nor the levels of local government involved, we won’t have the courage, for example, to ban the devastating use of screens until the age of 3, if not 4, to make the best use of them afterwards. And much more besides…
This goes far beyond education: elsewhere, too, public money is lost in crazy structural spending and impenetrable black boxes: where do decentralization subsidies really go? Housing? Employment? To innovation?
All the money we spend on these superstructures is stolen from future generations, who need better teachers, better paid, more numerous, better-supported and better-trained parents; and more resources to reduce inequalities in learning and guidance between social backgrounds and between generations.
Because that’s what it’s all about: this waste is money taken from future generations, through the debt it generates and the inequalities it exacerbates. Many countries have understood this, and have recently turned the corner towards a just modernity. But what about us?
- Results of the OECD’s PISA 2023 ranking: https://www.oecd.org/publication/resultats-du-pisa-2022/#resultatspisa2022
- The disruptive and innovative teaching method of Jérémie Fontanieu, a teacher in Seine-Saint-Denis: https://www.marianne.net/agora/lectures/la-recette-dun-prof-du-93-on-a-lu-lecole-de-la-reconciliation-de-jeremie-fontanieu
- Revyze, the TikTok of education: https://www.revyze.fr/