The American example in business study, technology, and perhaps even in the pure sciences has provided a counter to native French institutions. In fact, some of the newer of these institutions directly copy and Gallicize American models, both physically and programmatically. Much of what has been genuinely innovative in post-war France has not been generated from within the native French system, except for such institutions as the ÉNA and Sciences Po, which were designed specifically to serve the ends of the French State. This raises the serious question as to whether, as presently constituted, the State is in fact capable of engendering educational innovation in such a way as to foment original intellectual, scientific, and artistic creativity.
There are four problem areas that appear at present to require urgent thinking and planning. The first of these and perhaps the most symptomatic of the four concerns the status, ideology, and purpose of the collège unique. Most Frenchmen agree that in its present form it simply does not work; it fails even in its intended purpose to further democratize the secondary school system. Apparently, the present Minister of Education thinks that the solution to the collège unique's difficulties lies in rendering it more flexible, financially independent, autonomous, and less rigidly programmatic. Furthermore, the Minister promises that, along with this flexibility, his office will provide a firm piloting of the institution and the numerous establishments constituting it: "la souplesse avec la norme" (flexibility within the norm). The norm, presumably, will involve a greater integration with the primary level (the college will become more authentically a "middle school"); entrance evaluations to the sixième will emphasize French and Mathematics less than at present; and curricula will be "more imaginative." A number of national evaluations will take place over the four year course of studies; these will culminate in a national examination awarding a Brevet d'études fondamentales. These evaluations and brevet will also constitute part of the norm and promised ministerial piloting.
The second and third major concerns have to do with foreign languages and foreign study/educational travel. The two are closely related. The first of these involves the entire educational system, and it also is designed to counteract the overwhelming choice of English as the major foreign language studied. It seems likely that the study of two modern foreign languages will soon be required of all secondary level schoolchildren. All university level students will be required to pass a competency test in at least one foreign language in order to graduate. The university requirement will go beyond the level of mere colloquy; it will involve the ability to function linguistically in the student's area of academic specialization. Thus, a French university student should be linguistically equipped to read work in his or her field written in an appropriate modern foreign language, as well as to follow lectures in his or her subject in that language. These new requirements constitute, along with much increased foreign travel and study on both the secondary and higher education levels, part of the "Europeanization" of French education, rendering the French system more like that of many of the smaller European countries. The policy, although not designed with these implications in mind, may eventually have some repercussions on the nature of the French State-controlled educational system.
The last concern relates to the above quoted statement of Sylvain Auroux, director of the ÉNS-LHS. It is namely the urgency and importance of a new and informed humanistic reflection in the first century of the new millennium. Advances in science and technology, a commercially and monetarily driven world, and the lack of attention paid by the élites in the developed countries of the world have made such reflection indispensable. Given the largely materialist and careerist agendas of present day interest groups, however, the bright and the beautiful do not seem to have the time to give over to such reflection. Auroux appears to believe that France is blessed with educational establishments like the one he directs that are particularly well placed to form the highly articulate thinkers needed.
Buisson, Ferdinand. Dictionnaire de Pédagogie. Paris: 1882.
Chervel, Antoine. L'Enseignement du Français à l'école Primaire. Paris: INRP, 1995.
Georgel, Jacques. L'Enseignement Privé en France. Paris: Dalloz, 1995.
The French Ministry of National Education, 2001. Available from http://www.education.gouv.fr.
Glatigny, Michel. Histoire de l'enseignement en France. Que sais-je? Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1949.
Le Monde, 2001. Available from http://lemonde.fr/education.
Office national d'information sur les enseignements et les professions. Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de la Recherche et de la Technologie. Onisep: de la ème au bac, September 2000.
—Karl D. Uitti
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