Monday, September 12, 2005

School: highway to unemployment

This blog’s good friend and occasional informant RV prefaced his translation of an article on the education system in France by Patrick Fauconnier published in the Nouvel Observateur with the following:

«You obviously already know the French are the most sophisticated, educated, clever and sagacious people around the world, a kind of beacon of universal erudition, don't you? Here is my translation, but please be tolerant, I was taught English in French schools -»
School: highway to unemployment.

Too many young French end school without any qualification. What follows is an investigation on the reason of such a waste, and how to save your children from sinking.

One would like to rejoice and be optimistic on this years 'rentrée' (back to school). But sometimes lucidity is saving. State's lucidity which confesses, at last, that terrible number: every year, 163,000 young people end schooling without any qualification. But reality is worse: about 270,000 young people -- over one third -- leave schooling "without marketable knowledge." The numbers are inexorable: 58,000 give up altogether and leave; 75,000 fail their CAP or BEP, those 'professional diplomas' certifying the basic knowledge any employer requires; 30,000 fail the baccalaureate. Then, 20,000 quit higher education with only a DEUG (university degree of general studies awarded after two years). And 89,000 fail at this very same DEUG, a simple diploma preparing to 'license' (4-years graduation) therefore unmarketable.

A National tragedy.

Result: 109,000 are "without practical knowledge" and 163,000 "without qualification" -- 270,000 young people, 37% of a generation -- try to get a job without certified training. Whence this calamitous paradox: in one hand the astounding number of unemployed youngsters, and on the other little companies who can’t recruit good employees. As a result the state eventually offers 1 000 euros to anyone who accepts certain types of work and agrees to be trained in hotels and hospitality, retail sales, insurance or in building construction trades.

[Fields which in virtually every other part of the world need no inducement to enter whatsoever, and where training is generally not in need of the intervention of national governments. In the US retail is one of the most readily accessed jobs, and the perfect starting point to move on to a better paying, more specific field, and rarely an end in itself.]

Let us not be afraid: it's a national tragedy. Because this observation comes 20 years after the beginning of massive rise in youth unemployment, self-contented (refusing to see the actual statistics), lacking in political courage (refusing to make students marketable), we postponed what was mandatory and inevitable. Now we pay at the high price: mass unemployment, fearing the future, stopped consumption, a majority of youngsters wanting to become civil servants [75%], the others fleeing abroad, enduring sullenness and depression.

A country leaving a third of her young without education digs its own grave. The sources of such a failure? First, too much 'academic' and elitist education, scorning anything about labour, enterprise, and management. Thus, it's the 'ABE' orientation: 'Anything But Enterprise'. Young people thus dream of the admiration in becoming sportsmen, musicians, stylists, or civil servants. As a result the school system amounts to little more than a sorting mechanism where rank eventually prevails over knowledge.

Result: teachers behave more like judges than coaches encouraging specific talents and traits seen in the students. For several years the OECD has been leading a long term study of education systems named ‘Programme for International Student Assessment’ or (PISA), among 250,000 pupils in 40 countries. During 2003-2004 questions were about the atmosphere ay school.

We discover that we're ranked last in school spirit. In math, we are below the average concerning the feeling of learning math fluently. As for teachers' sense that they’re supported in their work, we are 29th. Facing such statistics, how could one 'challenge the thermometer' or complain to the bearers of bad news and not look at the causes.

It’s wiser to look at how other nations do this. "In this investigation, Germany and France have very bad results. In Germany, that had a tremendous national impact. In France, one hardly heard about it," observes Walo Hutmacher, education sociologist in the University of Geneva. The most appalling is that, (according to the OECD,) we are the biggest spenders of tax monies for higher education, with one of the largest number of employees at 5th out of the 40 countries sampled.

Our pupils work in average 400 hours more than Scandinavians, who nonetheless placed first in the PISA test. Therefore, the solutions won't stem from curriculum adjustment, but an actual 'cultural revolution', a redesigning of its’ ends and the role of teachers. That's what the
[cutely named] 'National Debate [findings/study] Commission on the Future of School' headed by Claude Thélot was about. His report was trashed at the first grunt of the main teachers' union, the SNES. It's nothing about joining in the criticism concerning the “alleged” French decline, but simply that the school system is in urgent need of reformed.

- Patrick Fauconnier.

NouvelObs adds:

The percentage of students in France reaching higher education compared to other states which France’s cultural critics often compare themselves to:

Australia: 77%
United States: 64%
OECD average: 51%
South Korea: 49%
United Kingdom: 47%
France: 37%
Germany: 35%

France is ranked 30th out of the 40 OECD countries studied.

(Source: OECD)

No comments: