Children in France already have lessons just four days a week. And they get two hours each day for lunch and enjoy longer school holidays. But after President François Hollande’s latest education announcement, their British counterparts will really have good reason to be envious.
French president Francois Hollande has said he will ban schools from giving their pupils homework as part of a series of reforms to overhaul the country’s education system. The nation’s new government says it is unfair that some children get help from their parents at home while children who come from disadvantaged families don’t. The government also argues that primary schoolchildren risk classroom burnout, and is moving to help them cope.
There’s been a midweek break in French primary schools dating back to the 19th century, a government concession to the Roman Catholic Church, which wanted children to study the catechism on their weekday off. In today’s secular France, Wednesdays currently are a blur of sports, music, tutoring for families of means, or a scramble for working parents struggling to get by — who must either find a sitter or send their children to a full day at a state-run ‘leisure center.’
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 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.
France ranks below most of its European neighbors and the U.S. in results on international tests.
But many parents are afraid that the changes will force them to figure out extra childcare five days a week, especially at schools where the after school program amounts to sitting silently at a desk for two hours or near-chaos in the play areas. Under the education proposal, school would end at lunchtime on Wednesday.