The French school system is very different from the American school system, but it is considered one of the most vigorous in the world.
The country of France is divided up into 30 different académies; Le Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et de la Vie associative) (the Minister of Education– kind of like a superintendent) oversees France’s school system. Then, each academie (kind of like a county-sized school district) has its own Recteur de l’Academie (sort of like the boss of that specific academie). Then, within each academie, there are several Directeurs Académiques des Services de l’Education Nationale, who oversee the various 101 departments within each academie.
Les Grands Principals (The Big Principles of the French Education System):
1. La Liberté de l’enseignement (Freedom of Public Schools)
2. La Gratuité- les familles ne doivent pas payer (Gratuity: Public Schools are free for all families)
3. La Neutralité Philosophique et Politique (Political and Philosophical Neutrality)
4. La Laïcité- l’absence d’instruction religieuse ; l’interdiction du prosélytisme religieux; la possibilité d’hors du temps scolaire (Religious Secularism: The ban of religious instruction and conversion; students have the option of seeking religious studies OUTSIDE school hours
5. L’Obligation pour tous entre 6-16 ans (School is mandatory for students between the ages of 6 and 16 years old).
7 Piliers du Socle (7 Basic Principles of Learning):
1. La maîtrise de la langue française (Mastering the French Language)
2. La Practique d’une Langue Vivante Étrangère (Learning Foreign Languages)
3. Les Principaux Éléments de maths et la culture scientifique et technologique (Learning math and science)
4. La maîtrise des techniques usuelles (Mastering useful life communication and informational skills)
5. La Culture Humaniste (Learning History, Geography, and Social Studies)
6. Les Compétences Sociales et Civiques (Learning How to be a good citizen of the French Republic and the World)
7. L’autonomie et L’initiative (Responsibility and Initiative; Collaboration, Cooperation, etc.)
The school system is divided up into three different sections:
1. Premier Dégrée (1st degree- Preschool and Elementary School)
2. Seconde Dégrée (2nd Degree- Middle and high School)
3. l’Enseignement Supérieur (Higher Education):
1. La Crèche et L’Ecole Maternelle (Nursery School and Preschool)- Though it is not required for students to go to school until they are 6 years old, school is available from the age of 2 (and is completely free and subsidized!) the only requirement is that children are propre, or toilet trained.
2. L’Ecole Primaire (Elementary School): This is mandatory for all children and starts at the age of six. The students start in CP or kindergarten, and then CE1, CE2 (cours élémentaires), CM1 and finally CM2 (cours moyens).
3. Le Collège (Middle School): Children have four years of middle school, from ages 11-15, where they enter in 6ème année (6th grade) and end in 3ème année (9th grade). At the end of middle school, French students have to sit their very first exam, called Le Brevet des collèges. This is exam tests students on French, history, math, geography, and citizenship, though it is not a requirement for students to enter high school.
4. Le Lycée (High School)- there are three years of high school in France: 2ème, 1ère, and Terminale. At the end of Terminale, students are required to pass the notorious Baccalauréat, which is required to enter university. However, if the student passes, he or she has the right to go to any public university of his or her choice. It is not uncommon or seen as a catostrophic thing if a student fails le bac and has to repeat the exam or a year in school.
5. L’Enseignement Supérieur – Consists of three levels: First is BTS- which is an equivalent to an Associate’s Degree. It takes two years to complete and is preparation for jobs such as: electricians, plumbers, welders, etc.) If you do not complete a BTS diploma, you usually do a Licence (Bachelor’s Degree). In Europe, Bachelor’s degrees takes three years instead of four to complete, because they are usually a bit more specialized.
Next is le Master (Master’s Degree), which takes an additional two years to complete. In France nowadays, you need to have a Bac + 5 (five years of studies) to be considered for most jobs.
Then, for those who are extremely ambitious, there is le Doctorate (PhD), which takes an additional 3-5 years after the completion of a Master’s Degree.
France also has a special type of university called Les Grandes Écoles, which really have no US equivalent. Basically, at these schools, students enroll in a rigorous program called cours préparatoires, and they complete a Bachelor’s Degree in two years instead of three, with the hopes of then integrating into a Business or Engineering (or rigorous Master’s program) just after. At the engineering school I taught at, students did two years of cours preéparatoires and then a three-year Master’s program, after which they were rewarded with a Master’s Degree in engineering.
In France, universities are simply named after big cities, and tuition is mostly covered by the state– meaning it costs virtually nothing to attend school. After three years in France, I see both the pros and cons to this system.