I’m a multicultural mom living in Paris.
Welcome to me world
I have a love-hate relationship with the French school system.
Having been immersed into so many cultures, my introduction to French schools was done with eyes wide open and an educated opinion. I grew up and was schooled in Russia, Israel and then for a short period in the US, so I had mixed expectations for both of my boys (aged six and three and a half). So when it was time to put them in public school, I couldn’t help to notice how different the French system is. Sometimes it was minor, such as school starting as early as the age of three, and sometimes it was stark enough to make me do a double take.
For expats, deciding if your new host country is the best not just for you but for your kids and their education is no easy task. So here are my insights on how the French choice worked for us – and why some days I thank my lucky stars for it, and others I have to count to ten.
What I Love:
1. They’re Highly Organized
If it’s on the schedule, it happens. French schools depend a lot on structure and order, and things don’t simply fall through the cracks because, “oh, we ran out of time for that.” That’s a lot of peace-of-mind when it comes to choosing a school! When it comes to the lesson plans or activities, the teachers are actually super organized and plan out their programs with the same level of detail they apply to their schedule- and you get in writing at the beginning of a school year. You can trust that your child is getting the most out of their school day.
2. Great Teacher/kids ratio
Everyone learns differently, and if my kid isn’t getting the concept, then I want to know that someone is taking the time to stop and explain it to them specifically. I want the teacher to make sure my kids are onboard as the class moves forward, instead of being left behind confused and frustrated. In a huge class, that’s impossible – but that’s not the case with French classes. In our area, even in public schools, there are only twenty-two to twenty-five kids per class and there’s always an assistant. Each child gets the support and attention they need to make learning not only effective, but something they won’t hate! They even have special assistance hours by the teacher, built in within the week.
3. The Kids Learn So Much!
Good with schedules and giving children individual attention is great, but here’s the kicker… Are the kids actually learning? The answer is a screaming “yes!” French schools aren’t all about talk – they actually deliver a high level of education that sticks. By the time my son was five-years-old, he was already telling me facts and figures about geography, history, astrology and plenty of other subjects. Give it a few more years and I’ll need to head back to college before this kid makes me look like a chump!
4. Everyone is Expected to Succeed
You get some school systems that seem more focused on getting the kids in and out as quickly as they can – as long as they as the systems functions, who cares, right? That’s the kind of negative perspective that just doesn’t exist in the French school system – and that shocked me the most! There’s an atmosphere of success and a drive to succeed that really affects the kids. Each one is expected to succeed, and it gives them the confidence to do just that. And even if they fail, it’s not “he flanked this subject” – it’s “he’s still working on that.” They would give you extra hours, tutoring or even suggest repeating the school year – to make sure your knowledge level really fits with the next class.
5. The Children Are Really Well-Behaved
We all teach our children manners, but with that many hours at school, you can’t help but wonder what bad influences will unwind those manners. Your kid is well-behaved, but what happens if you put 25 of them in the same room? Not a problem here. When I joined a day trip to the theater, it was astonishing how well-mannered all the children were. They showed a surprising amount of respect to the teacher and to other adults – so the structure applies to more than their education; it applies to their behavior.
What I Hate:
1. Parents are left out. Literally.
This really got me – right off the bat. In French schools, you leave your kid on the doorstep at the age of 3 and that’s that (two week into the first year of the school system). I wasn’t even allowed to walk my son up to the class itself – and as a mother, that obviously bothers me! Sure, the teachers are great and the children are polite, but how unnerving; plus, what four-year-old feels comfortable with that?
2. Communication With Teachers is Limited
All communication with the teacher is via a notebook only; you get a report on your child, but can’t look forward to an email or so much as a phone call to stay in the loop. In other countries (Israel from my experience), it is rather common for schools to have a Whatsapp group with all the parents where you can stay connected and informed, but that’s certainly not the case with the French school system. Getting a hold of the right people to get a personalized updates or answers to specific questions is like pulling teeth.
3. Parent-Teacher Meetings Are Rare and Difficult
So it’s no surprise that a notebook isn’t enough for me! If you want to meet up with a teacher personally, just to ask something as simple as “How’s my child doing?”, you have to schedule a formal meeting. And you have to write in the official notebook more than two weeks in advance if you ever want that meeting to come about. Seriously?
4. Free-Thinking is Frowned Upon
Some of those good manners come at the cost of the children’s own creativity. The kids learn to do exactly what the teacher says and not one ounce more than that; their own words, thoughts and initiatives don’t count. Here’s a crazy example from our own adventures, there was a school field trip and my son refused to take a water bottle with him just because the teacher didn’t specify that in the requirements. It’s certainly not something I’d consider truly extreme, but it’s a level of ingenuity and free-thinking that’s discouraged from the start. A water bottle doesn’t bother that much, but what will happen when we get into higher classes and there’s no room for innovation?!
Then again, by the time that happens we might be long gone from France.