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Frank in France #30

Frank Varney

Frank in France #30

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4 mins
September 28, 2021

In a past article, I discussed the differences between teaching/subbing in the U.S. as compared to France. I’ve also touched briefly on the differences in the educational systems in past columns, but since I just spoke to my advanced students about the differences between the two countries and it’s fresh on my mind, I thought I’d explain it further.

The most obvious difference is the names of each grade level. Whereas in the U.S. we count up from 1 to 12, in France, as of the equivalent of middle school, we begin counting down from 6. 

In France, maternelle, which encompasses the three years of petite section, moyenne section, and grande section, is the equivalent of Preschool and Kindergarten. 

Afterwards students continue into école primare (elementary school) including cours preparatoire (CP), cours elementaire 1 (CE1), cours elementaire 2 (CE2), cours moyen 1 (CM1), and cours moyen 2 (CM2), which correspond with our 1st through 5th grades.

Students them move on to collége (middle school or junior high school) and the grade levels begin to count down from 6: 6ème (ème is the equivalent of “th” for ordinal numbers and is pronounced “ee-em”), 5ème, 4ème, and 3ème are the equivalents of 6th through 9th grade.

To finish their secondary education, students may choose to continue on to lycée (prounounced “lee-say”) which includes 2nde, 1ère, and terminale (nde and ère denote the ordinal numbers 2nd and 1st).

I use the word “choose” above because in France, students begin to choose the direction their studies are going to take beginning in 4ème or 8th grade. By the end of 3ème they will have chosen which studies they will continue when they change school the following year.

Students who prefer to learn by doing and want to start working quickly are typically guided towards a lycée professional (vocational education). They can earn a certificate of professional skills (CAP) in two years or the equivalent of a high school diploma in their speciality (baccalaureat) in three years.

In either case, students alternate traditional in-person coursework with periods of practical training in local businesses (apprenticeship). Often bakers, pastry chefs, butchers, restaurant workers, personal care workers (nursing assistants, preschool assistants), and construction workers will choose this path.

Students who want to acquire a common general culture and deepen their knowledge in order to engage in higher studies are guided toward the lycée technologique (technical high school) or the lycée general (general high school).

The lycée technologique concentrates on practical and theoretical education. For example, I am currently subbing in a lycée technologique that trains future professionals in the hospitality and restaurant industry, butchering, and bread and pastry baking. Throughout their three years, students will attend classes for the theoretical portion of their education as well as practical courses whose purpose is to give them the practical knowledge they’ll need in their field. 

On our campus we have a restaurant that is open to the public that is run by students under the supervision of teachers. The food is prepared by students studying cooking, butchery, bread and pastry baking. Students who are studying to become waiters and waitresses provide the service in the restaurant.

We also have a small hotel, where again the service is provided by students. Students working toward a 2-year degree (CAP) clean the rooms and provide basic hospitality services under the guidance of teachers.

Several times during their educational journey, they will also do an internship in a local business to gain real-life experience.

Students attend a lycée technologique in order to work in the following fields: sustainable development;  design and applied arts; management sciences; health and social sciences; laboratory sciences; theater, music, and dance; hospitality and catering; and agriculture.

The Lycée general is focused on theoretical studies and the coursework is similar to a regular high school in the U.S.  Fields of study include mathematics; chemistry and physics; life and earth sciences; engineering; digital and computer sciences; biology and ecology; economic and social sciences; history and geography; humanities and literature; and foreign languages.

Unlike in the U.S., French students must pass a national exam at the end of their last year (terminale) of studies, which consolidates their last three years of education, in order to earn their baccalauréat (high school diploma). The examination period lasts for two to three weeks and includes written and oral exams. 

Depending on their field of study, they write essay exams on the various subjects they have studied, the questions for which are based on the general knowledge they should have acquired over the last three years. 

Obviously, I have never taken the exam, but I have proctored several of them and I can attest to the fact that they are quite challenging. But this is to assure that students across France share the same general knowledge of the field they are studying.

In the future, I’ll discuss more about the differences in the two educational systems. Until next time, prenez soins de vous (take care of yourself). 


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Frank Varney

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