In school reform, France to overhaul baccalaureate

For over two centuries, French students have faced a gruelling rite of passage: the week-long high school exit exam and its infamous philosophical essay, which bedevils college hopefuls with stumpers like “Do we always know what we desire?”
The philosophy brain-twister will remain, but the government has unveiled proposals for a major revamp of the rest of the baccalaureate, tackling a “national monument” based on a structure created under Napoleon in 1808.
Emmanuel Macron pledged to overhaul the Bac, as it is known, during his presidential campaign, saying it was failing to adequately prepare teenagers for university and the modern job market.
Once in university, roughly 60 per cent of students fail to secure their diplomas marking the first three years of study.
The proposed reform presented this week, which would halve the number of Bac tests to just five including a new 30-minute oral exam, aims to orientate students towards specific degrees sooner.
The three broad subject choices — science, literature or social sciences — would also be eliminated.
Before their final year, students would choose two specific “major” subjects as well as two “minors” alongside the standard curriculum — a system that will sound familiar to American college graduates.
Instead of being based purely on results in the final exams, the new Bac grade would incorporate marks and test results obtained throughout the two final years of school.
Even class schedules will change by 2021 if the reforms are passed.
The government hopes that introducing specialisation at a younger age will help students better choose their university — where places are currently free and guaranteed to anyone who passes the Bac ordeal.
For Pierre Mathiot, former president at the Lille branch of the prestigious Sciences Po university who drafted the overhaul, students will be able to secure a high school degree under “more realistic conditions”.
“I’m not saying there should be fewer baccalaureates, but that there should be ‘better’ graduates… and that the average Bac grade should better reflect a student’s actual level,” he said.
The goal is also to save money: mobilising supervisors and setting up mass testing centres cost the state 57 million euros last year, French daily Liberation reported.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer faces his first major political test and has pledged to discuss the proposals with educators before presenting a final text on February 14.
The change sparked protests by students who claimed the government was undermining free access to higher education. — AFP

Joseph Schmid