French president proposes homework ban

French President Francois Hollande has a new plan to fix economic inequality problems in his country: ban homework. 

The move, designed to level the playing field between students who get help from their families at home and those who don’t, is just one piece of reforms proposed by Hollande. His other plans include lengthening the school week from four to four-and-a-half days and increasing the number of teachers. 

"[Work] must be done in the the [school] facility rather than in the home if we want to support he children and re-establish equality," Hollande said while laying out his plans at Paris’ Sorbonne University, according to the Wall Street Journal

A poll shows that more than two-thirds of people oppose the idea, the Journal said, noting that similar experiments are being tried elsewhere: 

Banning out-of-school assignments would put France on the cutting edge of pedagogical fashion, though it wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented. An elementary school in Maryland recently replaced homework with a standing order for 30 minutes a day of after-school reading. A German high school is also test-running a new homework ban, after an earlier reform lengthened the school day and crowded out time for extra-curriculars such as sports or music.

But the idea might not even be that revolutionary, as The Washington Post notes. Districts in the United States experimented with homework bans more than 100 years ago. 

Early in the 1900s, the influential Ladies’ Home Journal magazine called homework “barbarous,” and school districts such as Los Angeles abolished it in kindergarten through eighth grade.  In fact, some educators said it caused tuberculosis, nervous conditions and heart disease in the young and that children were better off playing outside. The American Child Health Association in the 1930s labeled homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease.

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Why can’t France fill its open jobs?

About 10 percent of France’s working-age population is unemployed, even as somewhere between half and two-thirds of French companies are unable to find adequately prepared workers for the jobs they need to fill, reports Bloomberg. The news is even worse for young people; France’s youth unemployment rate was 22 percent in 2011. 

“Without delay, France must improve its vocational training system to more efficiently meet job offers,” French President Francois Hollande said at a “social summit” in Paris on July 9.

Take the French Federation of Mechanical Industries, for instance. The group,  ”which represents companies that make parts for everything from machine tools to trains and wind turbines,” according to Bloomberg, needs to recruit about 40,000 people annually for the next five years. In their own training programs, they can prep 25,000 people per year, said chairman Jerome Frantz. That still leaves 15,000 to be trained elsewhere. 

The problem comes down to a philosophical question about the point of education. France citizens have long looked down on vocational education, Frantz told Bloomberg, preferring intellectuel jobs. 

“For years, there has been a deep hatred in the education system regarding manufacturing, which was ideological,” he said.

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France’s new president unveils plan to hire more teachers

French President Francios Hollande, inaugurated on May 15, has big plans for the the next six weeks. Over the weekend, parliamentary elections replaced a conservative majority with a Socialist one, meaning Hollande’s left wing plans will likely reach fruition. 

Among the items of Hollande’s agenda for the next month and a half is a call to hire more teachers. As the Associated Press reported:

After 14,000 job cuts in education last year alone, the Socialists want to turn the tide and invest new government money in schools. They propose a long-term program to include 60,000 new jobs in public and private schools - with 1,000 teachers hired by the time school starts in September. Defending the cost at a time when France is trying to control its debts, Hollande says every job created would be balanced by an eventual job cut elsewhere in France’s large public sector.

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Is France’s new president ready to tackle higher education?

Not at all, according to an op-ed in the Guardian, which criticizes Francois Holland, the newly elected president of France, as well as the entire election. Holland and his main opponent, current president Nicolas Sarkozy, seemed “totally disconnected from critical challenges in which France is failing in every possible way,” the piece argues. The main take away? Don’t look for innovation under Holland’s presidency. 

Take higher education. The failure is unequivocal, regardless of political leanings. France might have about 80 universities, most of them second or third rate and producing mostly unemployable people. And if you dare a transatlantic comparison, you generate killer statistics. France’s budget for higher education and research is the equivalent of Harvard University’s endowment (€24bn or $31bn for French universities and public laboratories and $32bn of cash reserves for Harvard). Overall, France’s spending per student is less than half of the US – and 15 times less if you compare to the Ivy League colleges. French faculty members, unions and politicians have made their best efforts to disconnect universities from the business world. They’ve been remarkably successful. As a result, Gallic colleges have become poorer, and largely unable to cope with the legions of students that land onto their benches, facing underpaid and unmotivated professors.

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Tweeting from France

An article in Le Monde takes a look at a new trend spreading throughout rural, middle-class areas in France: so-called twittclasses. (You can read the entire article translated into English here.)

The first elementary school twittclass was launched in 2010 when teacher Amandine Terrier took her students on a trip to Paris. But what began as a way for students to connect to parents back home has turned into an every day teaching tool for some 50 classrooms in France.

Take Jean Roch Masson’s class of seven-year olds as described in the article: “Every morning, one or two pupils are in charge of posting the first tweet of the day. However, before posting it, he or she needs to write the sentence in his or her exercise book, get it corrected, type it on a shared digital document and copy and paste it in the software managing Twitter. The short message then appears on the smartboard on the classroom wall, along with messages from followers of the class. When a new tweet addressed to them appears, the whole class can get over-excited. ‘I had to set up a few rules,’ the teacher says. ‘They wanted to stop everything to read the messages and reply.’”

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