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Education In France

( Originally Published 1912 )



" The French are not deficient in sentiment. No one can know them even from their literature, or from the most superficial travel, — still more, no one can come to know them as personal friends,—without recognizing the deep, spontaneous genuineness of their emotional nature. This phase of their temperament as a nation is more pronounced, if possible, than the admirable intellectual one on which our consideration of the French universities has touched. Rather paradoxically, however, it is less evident in their educational surroundings and systems than almost anywhere else." — WENDELL ,, " The France of Today," p. 46.

IN turning our attention from America and Germany to France, we turn from a certain in-difference to systematization of schools to the spirit which has attempted to reduce to a correlated system the whole range of educational activity. France stands preiminent among the nations as the exponent of centralized authority, reaching out from the capital city into every school at the remotest crossroads. The result is a system of schools which, at least from the standpoint of beauty of administration as administration, challenges and receives the admiration of the world.

The frankly expressed aim is at uniformity of structure ; the consequent danger is a uniformity of detailed management and method which may deaden all interest in the truest forms of education. That bureaucratic control has already seriously impaired the schools is freely asserted by foreign critics ; as, for instance, by Dr. Draper, who says that French pupils are " trained for examinations and for routine, rather than for power." At home a certain acceptance of this criticism is evidenced by efforts to introduce a larger measure of local authority and to take such measures in internal management as shall more positively encourage initiative and individuality. We are here concerned, however, with noting the structure of the schools as it appears today.

Infant Education

France is among the leading nations of the world in respect to the schooling of children of tender age, over a half million being thus provided for. These schools are not, however, to be regarded as kindergartens, for they do not follow the teachings of Froebel, but exist chiefly for social and economic reasons. They are primarily designed in the interest of the mothers whose household or business duties demand all their time, relieving them of the care of their young children — those from two to seven years of age. The hours at school are long, frequently from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M., and there is much work and little play. The teachers are women, most of whom are not specially trained. These infant schools are of two kinds : the ecoles maternelles (maternal schools) and the classes enfantines (infant classes). The former are independent schools, supported only in the cities; the latter are classes attached to the elementary schools in those communities where it is impossible to maintain separate schools.

Elementary Schools

As in Germany, so here the elementary schools are not designed to prepare pupils for secondary work. The most complete elementary course covers nine years, but it is in but few communities that this complete course is available. In fact, most of the rural schools support only four years. The complete elementary school is known as the ecole primaire. This, it will be seen, is not to be confused with the American use of primary, to indicate the earlier part of the elementary course. The ecole primaire is divided into two groups: the ecole primaire elementaire (lower elementary school) and the ecole primaire superieure (higher elementary school), with courses, respectively, of six and of three years. The lower schools receive their pupils at the age of seven, and divide their work into three grades of two years each, termed, in succession, the cours elementaire, the cours moyen;, and the cours superieure. The work of the higher schools supplements that of the lower schools, but these schools are maintained in only the more able communities, and else-where are replaced by a modified form. This modification consists in attaching to the six years of the ecole primaire elementaire, a sort of post-graduate year or two, known as the cours complementaire. The public primary schools enroll close to five million pupils, and private schools add a million more.

Auxiliary Education

Institutions to the number of about 130 care for abnormal children. The enrollment of the deaf exceeds 2000; of the blind, 1000 of the crippled, 500; and of the feeble-minded, 2000. The oldest of the schools for imbeciles is at Paris and was founded in 1812. Special schools and classes for the mentally defective in connection with the public school system have been but recently provided for. They are known as classes et ecoles de perfectionnement pour les enfants arrieres, and were organized under laws and decrees of 1908 and 1909.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is provided by two forms of schools which vary chiefly as to the manner of their direction. The lycee is supported by the central government and is found chiefly in the cities. The college is supported by local communities, and seems to be taking on more and more the character of the higher primary schools.' Pupils enter either of these two secondary scllools at an average age of nine and follow one of four optional parallel seven-year courses, — classical, Latin-modern language, Latin-science, or modern language-science.' Few pupils enter from the ecole primaire, but come from private schools or from preparatory departments with a two-years course attached to the lycee. Provision is made for both day and boarding pupils, and upon the completion of any one of the four courses the degree of bachelier is awarded. This degree entitles the holder to certain privileges as to preferment in the civil service, and to admission to any faculty of the university. Thus the lycee is recognized as practically the only pathway to the field of civic employment and positions of trust and honor. The work of the lycee is accomplished not without the loss of a certain freedom and spontaneity, such, for example, as we meet in our American high schools. Hughes criticizes the lycee by saying that " no school in the world is so effective in suppressing individuality."' There are about twice as many colleges as lycees, and together they enroll some 100,000 students ; more, however, in the urban lycees than in the more numerous but smaller colleges. In addition, the students in private secondary institu-tions number above 60,000.

Higher Education

Higher education is provided by universities, fifteen in all, grouped into a system, with the University of Paris as the center and leader. The University of Paris grew out of the cathedral school of Notre Dame somewhere between the years I140 and 1170, and, with an enrollment fast approaching 20,000, it is beyond question the largest university in the world. The other universities are located at Aix-Marseille, Besancon, Bordeaux, Caen, Clermont, Dijon, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Montpellier, Nancy, Poitiers, Rennes, and Toulouse, with one also at Alger. Some have all four faculties : letters, science, law, and medicine.' Law attracts more students than any other two faculties together. Graduation from either course, which is four years in length, is marked by the degree of licencie. Post-graduate courses are offered, leading, after prolonged work including the preparation and defense of two theses, to the degree of Doctor of Science or Doctor of Letters. At the University of Paris the degree of agrege is also awarded, upon rigid examination.

In addition to these State universities, there are private, independent universities under clerical au-spices, at Paris, Angers, Lille, Lyon, Marseilles, and Toulouse. There are also certain special schools of university rank, under government direction and support, the College de France, Practical School of High Studies, Museum of Natural History, School of Oriental Languages, Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, and others.

Vocational Education

In this sphere France is well abreast of modern effort. The 'Ecole primaire superieure has usually a combination general and vocational course. That is, the school has a general course of three years, with alternatives for the last two years of special courses in agriculture, commerce, or industry. There is, too, another group of schools of the same grade, under the control of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. They are known as 'ecoles pratiques de commerce et d'industrie, and give a practical course of full three years in either industrial or commercial lines.

Of secondary rank, there are several ecoles rationales d'arts et metiers, with a three-year course, and ecoles superieures de commerce with a course of not more than two years.

"The fact that the secondary schools exist primarily for the recruitment of the professional classes renders the likelihood of introducing vocational training into the schools more remote than ever. Such is the pressure imposed upon teachers and pupils alike by the examinations impending at the end of the course, that a subject not required by this test has small chance of fair treatment in the schools, especially as the examination period approaches. The lack of consideration devoted to the relative values of the various subjects militates decidedly against the prospect of any immediate change in this regard."

As to higher grade vocational education it is said that " Perhaps no country is so well provided as France with universities and educational institutions providing scientific instruction of the highest order."' Among these are the Ecole centrale des arts et manufactures, at Paris ; the Ecole nationale d'agriculture, at Rennes ; several thriving polytechnics ; and schools of commerce, of war, of mines, and of other technical branches.

Education of Girls

In the elementary schools coeducation is tolerated only in the rural schools every commune of 500 or more inhabitants is obliged by law to provide separate schools for girls. In 1897 the total enrollment in mixed elementary schools was but 13 per cent.

Recognition of the needs of girls as to secondary education came comparatively late. In the words of Professor Farrington, " Of all the reforms in the field of secondary education that have been carried out under the Third Republic, the most significant has been the establishment of lycees for girls under the law of December 21, i880." The first of these to be founded was at Rouen. These schools admit girls at the age of twelve and give them a five years' course in two periods of three and two years, during the second of which electives are offered. Some 30,000 girls are enrolled in the lycees and colleges thus instituted.

In the universities, men and women students are on equal terms in all faculties and are ac-corded the same degrees. Women now constitute approximately to per cent of the total university enrollment.



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