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School schedule: Reforming traditions in France

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"France has the shortest school year and the longest day," Hollande said at the time, promising change.

His education minister, Vincent Peillon, will decide this month how to carry out the reform. He has said he may also compensate for a shorter school day by trimming France's sacred summer vacation. A panel of experts will present their conclusions on Friday, and the president is expected to address the issue on Tuesday.

No proposal affects tradition – and potentially family and municipal budgets – as much as what the French call changes to the "scholastic rhythms."

There's been a midweek break in French primary schools dating back to the 19th century, a government concession to the Roman Catholic Church, which wanted children to study the catechism on their weekday off. In today's secular France, Wednesdays currently are a blur of sports, music, tutoring for families of means, or a scramble for working parents struggling to get by, who must either find a sitter or send their kids to a full day at a state-run "leisure center."

Things aren't exactly easy for French kids.

Despite long summer breaks and the four-day school week, French elementary school students actually spend more hours per year in school than average — 847, compared with 774 among countries in OECD, a club of wealthy nations. But the time is compressed into fewer days each year. The French school day begins around 8:30 and ends at 4:30 p.m., even for the youngest, despite studies showing the ability of young children to learn deteriorates as the day goes on.

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