online education

Emmanuel Macron and Training: on the ridgeline

April 21, 2022

Education occupies a prominent place in the presidency project presented by Emmanuel Macron on March 17. This priority of the presidential candidate was reaffirmed in the debate that took place on April 20 against the two finalists in the presidential elections. Emmanuel Macron remains convinced that strengthening equal opportunities requires educational success. That’s one of the strengths of his political philosophy: instead of balancing inequalities with monetary benefits, as the French left advocated and practiced for many years in power, it’s better to get to the root of them. And this root canal goes through school. Indeed, social science work has shown that cognitive inequalities, the source of broader social inequalities, start to emerge in the first few years of life and are very difficult to correct thereafter if not addressed as soon as possible. However, and the President acknowledged this in his press conference, France’s results in this regard are disappointing, as the OECD’s PISA surveys regularly show.

No more educational centralism

What is the President’s diagnosis to explain these poor performances and justify his education program? Essentially, the idea that the hyper-centralized nature of the “national education” machine is no longer capable of dealing with extremely contrasting local situations in the context of mass education. It is not enough to provide additional resources to disadvantaged areas, as these policies neglect an essential element: motivating and involving local actors. This motivation and commitment can of course be there, but the current system of assigning teachers, essentially by seniority, and the bureaucratic centralism of the administration do not favor them. The Copernican revolution therefore consists in giving more autonomy to institutions to recruit teachers for “profile positions” in the long term and to build real educational communities united around a common project.

Emmanuel Macron insisted on one aspect in his press conference, probably because he speaks to the parents of students, that of the absence of teachers who have not been replaced. He did not take up this argument in the April 20 debate because it had sparked controversy and was stigmatizing. In any case, this is just one example of a much broader issue: that of involving teachers and recognizing their efforts in the success of the students for which they are responsible. Studies on the economics of education have shown—a finding we instinctively grasp—that the quality of education (and therefore of the teachers who deliver it) is a key factor in student success. The involvement of teachers, their good adaptation to the position and the students they are responsible for, is therefore something essential that must be encouraged as much as possible. It is also a matter of taking into account, better than today in France, the fact that every teacher belongs to an educational community whose goals he must share. In this country, the teaching profession is still conceived in a way that is too purely individualized. The exchange of experiences and best practices should be generalized.

This type of policy also implies leaving some leeway to the institutions to apply the national programs in their own way, which is the case in the northern European countries, which achieve much better results than the French. This type of recommendation (which is also supported by the OECD) has met with very strong criticism from advocates of republican equality in France. But these critics are hypocritical because the equality they speak of remains purely formal. It’s a paper equality, not a real equality, it’s enough to convince some to compare the dropout rates of the city’s priority districts and those of the other zones of the territory. Adapting national curricula does not mean abandoning national curricula, but devising appropriate educational pathways to transmit to population groups with specific characteristics. Only local actors who are directly confronted with these target groups can imagine and build these educational tools. To a certain extent they do, of course, but there needs to be more support and encouragement and therefore more trust and freedom to be given. “The programs and exams remain national, but we have to take more liberties,” affirmed the presidential candidate.

Securing this freedom left to local actors is evaluation, and not just a formal and insignificant evaluation, as is practiced today, but a real evaluation of the institutions with appropriate indicators of success. Here, too, the northern countries have been doing this for a long time. In France we are reduced to the rather rough rankings published periodically by magazines. This type of proposal also draws strong criticism as it stigmatizes a managerial approach to education and points to the risk of wild competition between institutions. But again, this criticism is hypocritical, because while this competition exists, it is now playing out in a black market for education with biased and often fantasized information. Reality is preferable to rumors and hearsay.

Emmanuel Macron also wants to expand and strengthen the reform of the vocational high school that began in 2019, in particular by grouping the too many subjects of the vocational baccalaureate into 14 occupational families, a good idea that prevents students from specializing too early in a subject that is not necessarily would correspond to their wishes (there are still 44 subjects for students who do not choose the vocational baccalaureate and start a CAP). The presidential candidate did not go into the details of the planned reform. We understand that he wants to bring the vocational grammar school closer to the economy than is the case today and wants to adapt the training better to the requirements of working life, without being afraid to start training occupations that do not “sufficiently qualify or lead to” ” dereference”. sustainable employment”. Above all, we strive for efficiency in professional integration by bringing the vocational high school closer to the teaching model.

The negotiation bet

With this overall program (which was only touched upon in the long debate on April 20th and which he does not present as explicitly as I do here, but that is the spirit) Emmanuel Macron is on the crest line, because he knows that against the teachers he will be unable to implement this reform. He must be able to convince her, and the task promises to be difficult[1]. The teachers’ unions, which spoke out after his press conference, are in turmoil, even the reformist UNSA. For Snuipp “it is an ultra-liberal, Anglo-Saxon right-wing program”. Emmanuel Macron has certainly promised a significant increase in teachers’ salaries (less well paid than in the rest of the OECD at the start of their careers), but with counterparts of additional commitment (replacing absent teachers, individual support for students, etc.). . …). Perhaps he recalls the experience of François Hollande’s education minister, Vincent Peillon, who, from the start of his tenure, made many concessions to teachers’ unions without demanding compensation, and whose end result, despite good intentions, was very disappointing[2]. Emmanuel Macron is betting that a give-and-take negotiation can be conducted with the representatives of the educational world. One important point should be noted: this consultation will be comprehensive as it will need to involve not only teachers and educational and administrative teams, but also parents of students, elected officials, associations and also middle and high school students. Undoubtedly, the candidate hopes that the voice of the users of education, and not just that of professionals, will be heard and encourage compromise. However, the bet is far from over, as the success of the reform appears to depend on the outcome of these negotiations. According to the candidate, confirming universal suffrage is no longer sufficient to establish the legitimacy of a reform. Education will be a field of pitfalls for this new (still vague) philosophy of political action.

[1] See the contribution by Iannis Roder in The Express of March 24: “Reforming the school without losing sight of the teachers’ interests is a real challenge”.

[2] See “Vincent Peillon’s candidate: was he a good education minister?” », the obsDecember 12, 2016.

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