2 February 2024

This column appears in “The World of Education”. If you subscribe to Le Monde, you can subscribe to this weekly letter by following this link.

According to the Ministry of National Education, nearly 40% of schoolchildren do not have the level required at the end of CM2. For what ? Leaving aside questions of the quality of teacher recruitment, particularly in Ile-de-France, initial and continuous training, or teaching methods, about which there are undoubtedly many things to say, to simply focus on the practical organization of schoolchildren’s learning and on their effective duration: are these in accordance with the interests of the pupils and conducive to fruitful learning?

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Let’s first look at school time and how it unfolds. Everyone knows that, since 2008, France has stood out in Europe for having the most concentrated school year and the longest school day. First of all, in a century, the length of the school year has been reduced, under pressure from the leisure and tourism industries, to be fixed at thirty-six weeks in 1989. Moreover, in this last half -century, one school day was lost: Saturday afternoons in 1969, then mornings in 2008, i.e. six hours a week – which represents a total loss of just over a class year over the whole of elementary schooling (180 days, i.e. 1,080 class hours).

To believe that such an amputation has no impact is an illusion. In this context, then, the four-day week was installed in the vast majority of municipalities with the complicity of adults and teachers’ unions, moved by their comfort rather than by the interest of the pupils, and despite the opposition from the best specialists in school rhythms (Antoine Prost: An educational Munich, The world of May 28, 2008).

Result: the class is now limited to 144 days (223 a century ago), of six hours each – which is hardly conducive to learning. Everywhere else, the number of days is higher (Spain: 175; Germany: 188; England and the Netherlands: 190; Italy and Denmark: 200). It would also be interesting for researchers to compare the results of the small minority of French schoolchildren who stayed four and a half days a week (including Paris) and the others.

A cropped school year in practice

Let us then see what is the case with the number of effective hours of teaching. This one is smaller than it is said. While network studies Eurydice on European Education Systems and the Evaluation Directorate, foresight and performance (DEPP) announce 900 class hours per year in France – the highest number in Europe – the reality is much lower. With twenty-four hours of class over thirty-six weeks, students have in principle 864 hours of class. But we must not confuse class hours and teaching hours, because it is necessary to deduct a series of hours and days:

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