French tackle reform of the bac

December 5, 1997

Paris. FRANCE is preparing to reform state secondary education in order to improve students' chances of coping with university and reduce drop-out rates, which are among the highest in the developed world.

Education minister Claude Allegre last month launched a nation-wide consultation, which is to lead to a national conference in March. Its role will be to draw up a set of reform proposals.

Mr Allgre said secondary education did not meet the expectations of "universities, grandes ecoles or professional training structures". He argued that course content should be overhauled to embrace a "shared culture".

Raymonde Piecuch, deputy leader of the education union of the CFDT confederation, said: "The lycee piles up knowledge, forcing the students to cram, without any global approach to the culture they need."

Several unions, however, are piqued by the number of reform projects Mr All gre is launching and the lack of prior consultation to establish priorities.

"We believe that there are other, more urgent, issues to tackle first. But yes, there is a problem. Universities are questioning whether undergraduates have enough intellectual independence. They do need to develop their autonomy and study methods," acknowledged Ms Piecuch.

Although there is consensus that the baccalaureate programme is far too heavy, all previous attempts to lighten the load have met with resistance, with teachers never agreeing their subject should be the one to face cuts.

Andre Robert, education science researcher at Paris V University, said: "There is always very strong opposition to course cuts. Lycee reform and undergraduate course reform are really linked. It's a huge undertaking and academics are very wary of any 'secondarisation' of university courses."

Steering the project through these minefields will be sociologist Edgar Morin of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and science of education specialist Philippe Meirieu of Lyon University. They have been appointed to head two committees which will lead the debate.

"If there are strong lobbies against change, Mr All gre may well stand down on this - he has on other matters," said Mr Robert.

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