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French schools to boost foreign language learning

Archive picture of a French collège student
Archive picture of a French collège student Denis Charlet, AFP |

French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem announced a series of reforms to middle-schools Wednesday, including a proposal for starting a second foreign language earlier and giving schools greater autonomy over schedules.

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Responding to criticism that students at French middle-schools, known as collèges, are in a slump, Vallaud-Belkacem told Le Parisien newspaper that pupils were “bored” and education officials needed to “reawaken their appetite".

The proposed reforms will go ahead at the beginning of the 2016 school year if approved by parliament.

These include advancing compulsory lessons in an extra foreign language by one year, to age 12.

Critics say this move, which has been trialled in a number of collèges, has seen time taken away from learning their first foreign language, while reducing time for the bi-lingual classes that are key to language proficiency.

French students start their first language – normally English, German or Spanish – at primary school at around the age of eight.

But despite the early start, France is badly in need of boosting its English skills, according to a damning report by language training firm Education First, published in 2014. The study ranked France the lowest in proficiency in English of all EU countries and 29th among the 63 countries surveyed.

In Europe (not just within the EU) only Russia, Turkey and Ukraine had lower levels of English among school graduates, the study found.

Other reforms proposed by Vallaud-Belkacem are aimed at making learning more fun and less stressful for high-school pupils, who are notoriously overworked and hindered by large class sizes.

These include increasing focus on smaller work groups, allowing schools the freedom to modify up to 20 percent of their hours, and extending lunch breaks from one hour to 90 minutes.

 

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