Schools for Excellence
The photos above are of two classes in the "internat d'excellence" in the town of Sourdun (department of Seine-et-Marne). What I like is that the pupils are wearing a school-mandated outfit, and they look quite nice and well-behaved. Interestingly the teacher in the red top is wearing jeans! Obviously the racial aspects are troubling, but these are special schools, so we can assume they are not typical of French classes. They are, however, almost typical of classes in the Parisian region where (we know from medical statistics) that 60% of new-borns are either North African or black African. There are more photos at Défrancisation.
An "internat d'excellence" is a boarding school for pupils who might fare poorly in regular schools, presumably because of an underprivileged home environment. A French government website explains:
The "internat d'excellence" is for motivated middle and high school students who do not have the benefits of an environment favorable to academic success. Pupils in the greatest need have at their disposal an establishment that is innovative in its operations and in its pedagogical and educative options.
This measure to promote equality of opportunity, implemented in 2008, has been among the national priorities financed by national bonds. In September 2012, forty-five fully operational such boarding schools offered 4,173 openings in different school districts.
The article adds that in all there were almost 11,500 openings for the 2012-2013 school year. Besides the fully operational boarding schools there are specially authorized private establishments that offer the same type of program. Twenty-thousand openings are envisaged in the long term. These schools strike me as very similar to our "motivation programs" that were designed to help failing students in inner-city schools. The work was very easy and the behavior on the whole very bad. But that was America. Possibly the French can do better.
The current minister of Education Vincent Peillon writes:
"All the boarding schools, in their diversity, should offer excellence to the pupils they accept in order to contribute to equality of opportunity and success for all."
Note the contradiction inherent in the ideas of "excellence" and "success for all". He goes on:
"In close collaboration with the regional authorities, we will monitor the improvement of the educational projects in all the boarding schools. This is why we will evaluate these schools, particularly in terms of the cost:success ratio, so that we may best orient our means towards success for the greatest number."
You can imagine the pressure on the teachers. If their students do not pass, the school will not be funded. Therefore, either grades will have to be inflated or (and this seems more likely) the courses and methods will be arranged so that failure becomes almost impossible, and "success" is uniform for all.
Here is another comment from Vincent Peillon, from a long letter addressed to the teachers of France:
"The Republic's School is a School of rigor and ambition that should allow each pupil to find and to take the road to success. It is a place of secular teaching, of emancipation and of integration of all children. It is our common house, a vector of the promotion of social justice, a place for the transmission of the values of the Republic, strong values that must be taught, reflected on, discussed and practiced. Together, it is for us to give our School a new spirit that will bring reasons for hope and for full participation in its destiny to our youth. We must all mobilize for the daily accomplishment of this ideal for our country. We know we can count on you in a spirit of unity, confidence and action, in the interests of the pupils and those of the Nation, and we warmly thank you."
And what's interesting in the above statement is that he actually thinks of France as a "nation". But note that the purpose of the School is not transmission of knowledge, but transmission of the values of the Republic. That's a major break with the past.