Education: ordinary chronicle of an announced disaster

By Nathalie MP Meyer.

The 2019 results of the international school classification TIMSS have just fallen and it is a real slap in the face, one more, for our experts in pedagogy, for the Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer and for the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron.

Catastrophic results

Whether we’re talking about fourth grade students or fourth grade studentsthWhether we are talking about mathematics or science, France tirelessly pursues its educational plunge.

The TIMSS ranking (for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) is carried out every four years by an independent international non-profit organization among students of CM1 (Grade 4) and 4th (Grade 8) from more than 60 countries (64 in 2019).

France participated in 1995, the first year of the study, then in 2015, but only for CM1, then again in 2019 for the two levels and the two subjects examined. During this last assessment, 4,186 pupils of CM1 and 3,874 pupils of 4th have been tested.

As can be seen in the tables below, and as usual, Singapore towers over everyone head and shoulders. Major East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea follow closely behind, but England, Germany or the United States do not demerit.

For its part, France is located below the central point of the study (500) and clearly below the international averages (EU or OECD) in the four scenarios:

In fourth grade, with a score of 485 in math for an EU average of 527 and a score of 488 in science for an average of 522, it even ranks last among European countries.

In class of 4th, it is only penultimate in the EU in maths (483) thanks to Romania (479) and penultimate in science (489) thanks to Cyprus (484) and again Romania (470).

Short summary of the results of the TIMSS 2019 ranking:
Sources : TIMSSMediumAdvanced level.

CM1 students (math ranking on the left, science on the right):


4 studentsth(Same):

The comparison over time is no more flattering for France. No improvement to report since 2015. At the time, our CM1 students had got 488 points in mathematics and 487 points in science, more or less what they have been able to achieve today. Singapore was already in first place with 618 points in maths against 625 today and the averages for the study and the European Union were already at 500 and 527 points respectively in mathematics.

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As for the 4th, they had not been evaluated since the first TIMSS wave of 1995. The fall is brutal: it is a average retreat of 47 points that they record in 24 years. As students of 5th also assessed in 1995 were 46 points below the 4th, we have to deduce that the level of the 4th today corresponds to the level of 5th 1995.

However, it has been quite a few years since successive national education ministers have assured us: the level is rising! Just look at the results of the Bac!

Another extremely worrying point that augurs well for a rather bleak scientific and technological future for France, the brilliant French students in maths are proportionately very few.

This is true at the European level, where the share of advanced level students is only 11% when it exceeds 50% in Singapore and 30% in Japan, but it is simply catastrophic in France: only 3% of CM1 students and 2% of 4 studentsth reach the advanced level as shown in the log graphics The world.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. International rankings that focus on a wider range of subjects (PISA 2015 and 2018) and on reading comprehension and mastery (PIRLS 2016) are not more favorable to France. In 2015, French students were mediocre in the PISA ranking, and in 2018, they stagnated – in mediocrity, therefore.

But at the start of the 2017 school year, we saw Jean-Michel Blanquer arrive and we thought for a moment that it was the moment when France would finally turn the tide. The minister said he wanted to reconnect with a proven pedagogy, he said he wanted to put the fundamental knowledge of reading-writing-counting at the heart of the teaching.

The Singapore method, especially in mathematics, was no longer dismissed with a dismissive hand with a treacherous remark about the infamous pressure on poor Asian students. It was even a question of to be inspired by it to make students want to do math again. Our Fields medalist Cédric Villani, secondarily an LREM deputy then not registered, and Inspector General Charles Torossian were responsible for finding out how to give children a taste for math.

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Likewise, the duplication of CP and CE1 classes in priority education areas, the return to the syllabic method for reading – while the global method has destructured so many children, the daily dictation for attention and spelling, reading aloud – all good ideas just begging to be implemented.

Is it too early to see the effects? Or should we on the contrary be prepared to receive many of these absolutely distressing educational results?

As the present result deals with mathematics and science, the explanation generally put forward to explain the French debacle of the day consists in saying that 80% of teachers come from literary and human sciences. Uncomfortable with math, trained too quickly in this subject, they are unable to instill confidence and curiosity in their students.

More generally, since it is in reality the level in all subjects that poses a problem, I would especially like to say that the more the level of the students drops, the more the level of future teachers drops and the more the level of future students will and already feel it negatively.

But beyond this particular point, I would like to mention three other aspects, which have not changed for years, quite the contrary, and which seem to me to constitute the main obstacles in principle to any improvement in the level of our system. ‘instruction.

The mammoth of National Education

First of all, theNational Education is an absolutely enormous state monopoly, a mammoth, as Claude Allègre aptly said – a mammoth crippled by immobility which is dragging itself along painfully in its habits and which one does not frolic on demand.

It remains a huge, extremely expensive machine, weighed down by a trade unionism more ideological than practical, which makes it incapable of responding in a flexible and diversified manner to all student profiles, the most intellectual as well as those most willing to turn to courses. practice.

But nothing is being done to break this destructive monopoly. Nothing is done to bring out innovative ideas.

The little autonomy, the little teaching freedom that exists in our education system is even threat by the bill on “separatism” which will be examined today in the Council of Ministers.

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It is indeed a question of banning home schooling (except for serious health problems) and even more supervision of non-contract private establishments which are already very much so.

The disease of egalitarianism in National Education

Then, National Education, like everything that is done in France in many respects, is sick of egalitarianism. Since in 1985, Jean-Pierre Chevènement gave France the objective of bringing “80% of an age group at the baccalaureate level by 2000”, a race to the bottom has become the rule for success.

In his mind, it was probably about improving the system, not killing it. But very concretely, the work, the effort, the care to improve oneself and to cultivate oneself were completely devalued since the failures of pedagogism as well as a certain electoral clientelism did not allow to reach the objective without permanently lowering the requirements.

Result of the races, we had a success rate in the bac 95,7 % this year, after 88% in 2019 and 2018. Just reading these amazing figures, we feel that something is wrong. What the pitiful results of international rankings confirm to us year after year bluntly – but without making us react either.

National education: Equality vs quality

Finally, the issue of equality has everywhere taken precedence over that of quality. You think that we should seek to restore the level of teaching and efficiency in learning methods, that we should work to restore the authority of teachers and return to a selection based on the academic merit of students and only him?

Well, not at all. It is only a question of bonus points for fellows in higher education and at the entrance to grandes écoles; it is only a question of ” inclusive pretexts ” and of ” positive rituals “ like taste week at school which would allow ” each parent to bring a culinary specialty from their country ”- one of the brilliant ideas of the deputy LREM Aurore Bergé; and it is only a question of girls’ access scientific fields – and too bad if the level of these same fields is more and more dismal.

In short, everything is in place for the disaster. It promises.

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