French Students Protest Education Change Through Violent Demonstrations

By Indri Schaelicke | United States

Following the massive wave of violent protest in Paris and Toulouse, France, many are feeling emboldened to demand change. The riots that have plunged Paris into chaos were the result of a gas tax hike. However, this is not the only thing that citizens dislike about the Macron regime. In fact, a new cause is rallying the support of French students.

Education Reform for French Students

In a televised interview in April, the French president made known his plans to overhaul France’s approach to education. One of the major reforms his administration is seeking to implement is a change to the Baccalaureate Examination, an exam that students must take and pass to be eligible to enter university.

With exam grades sliding in recent years, Macron plans to alter the exam. Between 2003 and 2012, French students’ performances on international math tests fell compared to other countries. An international study of reading known as PIRLS, published in 2017, showed that French pupils were in the 34th position. This was far behind their peers in Portugal, Spain, and Italy. The students’ level has dropped by 14 slots since 2001.

Even though the results of the exam are an entrance ticket to college, many students drop out once they enter college. Astonishingly, the ministry says that 70% of undergraduates fail to earn their degree in three years.

President Macron’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, plans to significantly cut down on the number of exams students must take to earn the Baccalauréat certificate. The current requirement ranges from 10 to 15, but Blanquer desires only four. He also plans to reorganize the new diploma so that French students have two choices of subjects to specialize in.

The specializations will account for a quarter of the final Bac grade. Two other important exams will remain compulsory for all students, a written philosophy paper, and an oral presentation of a school project. Just like now, French literature will remain a compulsory exam. 40% of the final grade will be a running assessment during the final two years of public school.

Taking to the Streets

These proposed changes have drawn the ire of students, parents, and teachers alike. Many teachers fear that the new continuous assessment model will kill the high national standard for education that France holds. They argue that these policy changes will, in effect, bring about a two-tier Bac, with top teachers in top schools giving higher grades, rather than one fair standard. Teachers of optional subjects are also worried about their job security, with teacher unions threatening strikes. Until this point, Macron has largely avoided street protests as he implements his plan to modernize France.

While protests against gas tax hike are consuming France, students are taking their opportunity. Police are shooting protesters with rubber bullets, but this has yet to deter them from joining the European Spring. Possibly in part due to popular support for the Gilets Jaunes protestors, French students are taking to the streets with their adult compatriots.

So far, French students have closed tunnels and blocked entrances to schools. Mobs have also thrown objects at riot police, and the authorities have responded by firing tear gas at protesters. This represents an extreme escalation from mere teacher strikes to violent protest. The Yellow Vest movement seems poised to join forces with the French students, as both groups seek a radical change to their government. With the recent uproar and violent demonstrations against it, education reform, along with heavy taxation, could be the hill the Macron administration dies on.

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