If he manages to push his latest proposals through, French President François Hollande may find himself with a few more young supporters on his side.
Last week, Hollande reaffirmed his pledge to make education one of his main domestic priorities by outlining key strategic changes to revitalize France’s school system. It’s a sweeping package of changes meant to reform a system critics claim is outdated and inefficient, but for headline writers it boils down to one concept: the French President wants to outlaw homework. “Work should be done at school, rather than at home,” Hollande emphasized on Wednesday.
He also proposes reducing the average amount of time a student spends in class in each day, while stretching the school week from four days to four and a half. It’s a bid to bring the country more in line with international standards and to acknowledge some of the current system’s shortcomings. Even the homework isn’t just an empty populist gesture — it’s meant to reflect the fact that many of the lowest-performing students lack a positive support environment at home.
According to the Associated Press, French students endure some of the longest school days within developed nations:
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 [a.m.] 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.
However, Hollande’s proposal faces a few challenges of its own: parents would have to learn how to adjust to the new school schedule and how best to care for their child during their suddenly free afternoons. Extracurricular activities would potentially fill a gap, but would increase pressure on already strained educational and state budgets.
“It’s completely unrealistic,” Valérie Marty, the president of France’s national parents’ organization, told the Associated Press. “They have to figure out who will take care of the children after school, who will finance it.”
Some of Hollande’s other suggestions: shortening students’ summer vacation, increasing the number of teachers by as many as 60,000 and targeting disadvantaged areas to bolster France’s school system. Given the additional pressure the President faces in reforming the domestic budget, it’s a tough act to pull off.
Hollande, who is currently in his first term after succeeding Nicolas Sarkozy in May, had vowed to make education a cornerstone of his presidency.