Education International
Education International

France: Public education under threat

published 19 January 2009 updated 19 January 2009

The recent book, "Main basse sur l’éducation publique", by teacher Eddy Khali and journalist Muriel Fitoussi, sends a disturbing message about the many threats endangering quality, free public education in France.

The investigation sheds a new light on the declaration by Education Minister Xavier Darcos, who provoked a great outcry amongst the ranks of early childhood educators by asking publicly whether « it is really logical, while we are so aware of careful spending of public funds, that we should ask people to take Masters level exams when their main function will be to make children take a nap or to change their diapers?” With this comment he demonstrated his deep misunderstanding of and disdain for the work of the educators for whom he is responsible. It should not come as a surprise, since the book reveals that the minister was linked to a think tank called “Creators of schools.” This group, composed of high-ranked officials in the education ministry, was “determined to take over the citadel of Education with their ideas.” The book also shows the agenda pursued by a coalition between advocates of privatisation of education and religious interests, mostly Roman Catholic. On their agenda: More public funding of private schools through school vouchers; promotion of freedom of choice in schooling, especially in terms of Catholic boarding schools; questioning co-educational schooling; raising doubts about the long-standing policy of secularism in schools; review of teacher training institutions; curriculum reform at primary level, among others. And all this with the full support of the educational establishment and the government! The authors conclude that “the government’s hidden agenda is to undermine education as a public service and, over the long term, to privatise it. The book’s goal is to add to a debate that is fundamental to French society and its future, to call upon all citizens to be involved— especially parents of students, teachers, and educators— in order to preserve and enhance community wellbeing, and the essence of secular public education that is truly open to all.” Clearly the authors share the same worries as delegates to EI’s 5th World Congress, who passed a resolution stating that “attacks on the quality of public education are used by those who promote privatisation … in order to undermine the public's confidence in public education and to justify cutbacks in public investments.” As well, they voted to “support affiliated trade unions in their struggle against the growing influence of the role of religions in school.”

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 28, December 2008.