Thursday, May 18, 2006

Education à la française

A while back Daddy sent me the link for this article (two-page from NYT, you may need to sign up to read) which discusses the state of higher education in France. You might be interested in reading it if you haven't already.

My personal observation and discussions with French people agree with this article. I'll run the risk of sounding like a typical American and French-basher to say that French education would scare me away from living in France - especially with a family. From the age of five or six on, French children have to make school their career if they want to succeed. Problem: there is no guarantee they will succeed, if success equals obtaining a job (notice the lack of modifiers for this last noun, such as 'rewarding', 'well-paying', 'interesting', etc.)

But what else do you expect when you have free university education? Apparently, some people expect a lot, such as this fine fellow: At Nanterre, Alexandre Frydlender, 19, a second-year student in law and history, complained about the lack of courses in English for students of international law. But asked whether he would be willing to pay a higher fee for better services, he replied: "The university is a public service. The state must pay."

I'm sure he meant to say, "The university is a public service. The citizens must pay. Let's raise the taxes!" Which will include him too... unless he prolongs his nearly-free education indefinitely. There's a French expression that hits the nail on the head: vouloir le beurre et l'argent du beurre = to want the butter and the butter money - that is, wanting to have at the same time the butter and the money one would receive for selling it. Except, obviously, you can't have both. I'm thinking that free education and quality education may be another such case.

To study is a right, not a privilege. What do you think of that? (I'm especially anticipating the comments of my brothers and sisters - especially my younger brothers and sisters - okay, so all my brothers are younger than me anyway...)


Vengeful Cynic said...

Interestingly, the only way that the French model appears to differ from the American model, at least on a strictly educational level, is that America provides a "free and public education" only through high school rather tahn through college.

So the question becomes, "Is there a point in education where a student should become responsible for continuing his/her education (either financially or by demonstration of academic aptitude up to that point) and where does that point arise?"

My personal take is a thorough disenchantment with the American public education system... which translates to liking the French one even less. It is not an easy thing to fix, however, and I thus hesitate to come up with a "simple solution."

Sharon said...

Well, the French model does differ from the American model before the university in pressure. It is much more difficult to pass from grade to grade, plus the student has to decide which 'bac' to pass, which will determine the direction of his studies both before and after.

Of course, it's never easy to fix what the State decides to run.