France downsizes classes to 12 pupils

French President Emmanuel Macron spent a few hours last Monday in class in eastern France on the first day of the new school year after the summer holidays.
French President Emmanuel Macron spent a few hours last Monday in class in eastern France on the first day of the new school year after the summer holidays.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

PARIS • Hundreds of French schools in deprived areas have started implementing one of the key campaign promises of President Emmanuel Macron: cutting class sizes to only 12 pupils in a bid to raise standards.

Schools in designated "priority" areas, where educational achievement is historically low and poverty high, have slashed their class sizes for pupils aged five to six.

All in, 2,500 classes have been cut to a maximum of 12 pupils instead of 25 now, as promised by Mr Macron during his election campaign to help tackle inequality.

Mr Macron spent a few hours last Monday in class in eastern France on the first day of the new school year after the summer holidays.

An OECD global ranking of education levels shows France at 27th, below Germany at 16th and far behind Estonia, which is the highest- ranked European country at third.

The research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which tests literacy and numeracy among 15-year-olds, shows the French system produced highly unequal results, serving high-achieving students well while failing to prepare those at the bottom.

"Twenty per cent of pupils are in a worrying situation and they are mostly children from disadvantaged backgrounds," OECD education expert Eric Charbonnier told Le Parisien newspaper.

In Corbeil-Essonnes near Paris, pupils and teachers were mostly happy with the new measures at the Quatre Vents school.

"The messing around is finished," joked Mr Djamel Abbas, 44, who took his son to school. "The slightest noise and the teacher will hear it."

The smaller class sizes are also expected to help teachers handle the challenge of teaching foreign-born pupils for whom French is a second language.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'France downsizes classes to 12 pupils'. Print Edition | Subscribe