Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The French Withywindle?

There's more discussion about les grandes écoles here and here, but this passage, from the second link, stuck out:
Le changement majeur des années 1980, c'est la "démocratisation de l'accès au supérieur", le fameux objectif de "80 % d'une classe d'âge au niveau bac". Bel objectif théorique, désastre total dans les faits. Aujourd'hui, je peux affirmer que nombre de titulaires du bac scientifique (ceux auxquels j'enseigne en première année de fac) seraient incapables d'obtenir le certificat d'études de 1950 : déficience en lecture (incapacité à comprendre des énoncés simples), en écriture (incapacité à construire des phrases grammaticalement correctes avec moins d'une faute d'orthographe par phrase en moyenne), en calcul (méconnaissance de la règle de trois, de l'addition de fractions, du volume d'un parallélépipède, confusion entre la surface du cercle et du carré, j'en passe et des meilleures). Chaque semaine je dois apprendre à mes étudiants des notions de base que j'ai moi-même apprises lorsque j'avais cinq ou dix ans de moins qu'eux.

Rough translation:
The major change occurred in the 1980s with the "democratization of access to higher education" and the famous objective of "sending 80% of students to college." Beautiful in theory, but total disaster in actual fact. Today, I can attest that many students who focused on science in high school (and whom I teach as freshman in college) wouldn't have passed in 1950: deficiencies in lectures (incapable of understanding simple statements), in writing (unable to construct grammatically correct sentences with less than one mistake per sentence on average), in math (misunderstanding of cross-multiplication, of addition with fractions, of the volume of a cube/box, confusion between the surface of a circle and of a square, I pass them and better). Each week I must teach my students basic notions that I myself learned when I was 5 or 10 years younger than them.

At least it's not just us Americans with these sorts of problems. Then again, I must say that some of this is attributable to "Kids these days" combined with "back in my day." Nevertheless, increasing access to higher education does sound great, but some people just aren't capable of doing the work. At some point, the benefits of increasing access begin to become costs because either students waste lots of time attempting something they won't be able to finish or the standards are lowered to accommodate them and the other students are ripped off. Precisely where that function is maximized such that the most people get access to the best possible education is open for debate, but I'm confident that sending more than half of students to college is probably into the cost section.

1 comment:

David said...

Sounds like the same kind of education theories and ed schools that have done so much harm in the U.S. have also struck in France:


Also, did you get the e-mail I sent you, or did it get eaten by a spam filter?

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