France: Quality education threatened by planned interdisciplinary teaching
Responding to the Science Plan proposed by Luc Chatel, Minister for Education, French EI affiliates have emphasised the need for good initial teacher training.
They began by questioning the need for the plan.
The SNES-FSU indicated in a statement that it was ‘supportive of programmes designed to allow students to understand the links between sciences’ but ‘rejects any initiative that could undermine the skills required for teaching specific subjects and the necessary qualifications to teach a subject at secondary level’. It went on to say that ‘meaningful interdisciplinary teaching must be founded on knowledge and should not result in the loss of the specific skills required for each subject.’
UNSA-Education responded to the proposal of having a single teacher for earth and life sciences, physics and chemistry, and technology, stating that ‘this remains only a proposal at this stage, so serious are the consequences.’ In relation to primary education, the union criticised ‘mental arithmetic drills and learning tables by rote’ as ‘this is not what is assessed by PISA, but rather students’ abilities and in particular their capacity to solve problems through the use of reason.’
The SGEN-CFDT referred to it as ‘a series of measures that have existed for years’. Referring to those elements of the Science Plan that affect primary education, it stated that ‘daily mental arithmetic was already in the bill of 2 March 2007 on the maths curriculum’. It went on to state that ‘Luc Chatel is proposing “academic” research that already exists, at the exact moment that he is eliminating a research tool by closing the National Institute for Educational Research.’
The teaching unions went on to consider the Science Plan in the context of the massive cuts in teaching posts and the consequent reduction in the French government’s budget allocation for state education in recent years. They condemned the negative effect that such an educational policy will have on teacher training.
SNES-FSU stated that ‘No one is questioning the need for all students to have solid scientific grounding’, adding that ‘the Minister’s goal of improving teacher training is commendable’ but would only be feasible if Luc Chatel ‘did not insist on implementing at any cost a reform of teacher training that jeopardises initial training because of budget cuts.’
According to UNSA-Education, the idea of rolling out ‘pilots of integrated teaching programmes for science and technology’ is a ‘cross-cutting approach’ that ‘could work.’ But it questions ‘whether it is really possible, given there is no longer the possibility of making class sizes smaller and budget restrictions will prevent this from ever happening in the future.’ It also stated that it was necessary to ‘rebuild genuine teacher training’, which it believes was adversely affected by the government reform known as ‘masterisation ’.
The SGEN-CFDT equally lamented the fact that the Minister ‘is increasing the number of visits by the general inspectorate of national education rather than allowing student teachers and teachers the time to learn’, at the same time as ‘he is cutting teacher training.’
The ‘One school, one future’ network, which includes unions such as FSU, UNSA-Education and SGEN-CFDT, issued a joint call for staff and the general public to participate in the national day for action on Saturday 19 March, in order to show their support for the state education system and its ongoing commitment to helping young people to succeed.
EI supports the actions of its members and calls for the French educational authorities to ensure that initial and continuing teacher training is not jeopardised by budget cuts.