Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Think educational bureaucracy is bad - try France!

I am always pleased when people send me articles that they think I might be interested in. Recently I was sent material saying how bureaucratic teaching was in New York, well it seems it can get worse! Another friend has sent me an article about French requirements.

The French Ministry of Education (popularly known as the ‘mammoth’) is regarded only to have one competitor – the Red Army! In the French system it is said that the French Minister knows, at any one hour, exactly what children of a given age would be studying anywhere in France. A uniform education is given to students whether in an industrial suburb of Paris or in distant mountain village in the Pyrenees. As well parents are asked to sign and absorb five pages on enrolment.

It gets worse. No detail is overlooked. A recent swimming circular ran to 4000 words covering everything from the objectives of swimming to the temperature of the water! Evidently a water temperature of 27 and an air temperature of 24 to 27 are required. For outdoor pools the temperature is some degrees lower but no less than 25. A more recent circular removed the minimum of 25 degrees.

Of course the real issue is whether this stuff ever gets read let alone enforced.

Some teachers in France have difficulty imagining that they are actually communicating with living human beings.

This sort of imposed detail is also to be seen in the English (UK) Literacy and Numeracy hours in an attempt to improve reading and maths scores.

The rational ideas of the age of science exist in all countries. Our current New Zealand Curriculum Statements represent this desire to define what students should know and teachers should teach by defining endless strands, levels and objectives. And for a while the Education Review Office visited schools to see teachers were ticking off the objectives that were determined by central authority to be covered.

It pays to keep a close eye on these so called distant elites. It always looks easier to solve problems from a distance, particularly for those whose classroom teaching is a distant memory!

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