Liberté, Fraternité Maybe – But Égalité Is Struggling In French Schools

Photo by Frenk and Danielle Kaufmann from Dreamstime

Having touched on discrimination yesterday with a look at the suppression of the term Mademoiselle on official forms, I thought I’d continue on the theme by looking at the disparity between the treatment of boys and girls at primary school. Recently there was a report on this subject in the little newspaper, Mon Quotidien, that Ruadhri reads every day and which is aimed at primary school kids. There are some interesting findings.

  • In class, the teacher is more likely to ask boys questions than girls, especially in maths.
  • Girls who hand in untidy work are more likely to receive remarks about this than boys. (I have to butt in here to say that this happens in Ireland too. I could hardly believe my ears one day when Mrs C, Caiti’s teacher, told me that she was very untidy ‘for a girl’! Caiti took against her that day and never forgave her!)
  • Teachers are more likely to ask boys to help them with technical tasks around the classroom – how to get the DVD to work etc – but more likely to ask girls to help them tidy bookshelves or toys.
  • The sports that are usually done in primary schools are predominantly ‘boy’ ones like football and rugby and far less often ‘feminine’ physical activities like dancing or gymnastics.
  • Boys tend to dominate in the playground by playing games that take up most of the yard and barging the other kids out of the way.
  • Kids’ books still have more boy than girl heroines. This is definitely the case with BDs.

I find all the above very sad.

I did some research on this area of inequality at school and came across a detailed report entitled optimisitically Filles et garçons sur le chemin de l’égalité (Girls and boys on the path to equality). You could write multiple theses based on the findings in this document. The ones that hit me most are that:

  • Girls spend longer in education than boys – 18.7 years against 18.2
  • Girls still tend to take arts subjects and boys the sciences. (Me again here. This is so true. Benj took the Bac L (languages) at Gueret. There were 4 boys in a class of 25. Caiti is doing a Bac S (science). She’s in a boy-dominated class, but it’s not quite so extreme as Benj’s was. Their lycée, Pierre Bourdan, is generally girl-heavy since it’s a lycée générale et technologique i.e. more academically orientated, whereas the other one in Gueret, Jean Favard, is very boy-heavy apparently due to its being a lycée générale, technologique et professionnelle, the latter term meaning that it offers more vocational courses, mainly scientific ones.)
  • Boys are more likely to leave school earlier and go into apprenticehip schemes.
  • At all levels, girls perform better than boys in exams with the one exception of the Bac STI (Sciences et Technologies Industrielles)
  • 71% of girls and 61% of boys obtain the Bac
  • More women than men obtain Licences (Bachelors’ degrees) and Masters, but fewer women than men go on to obtain doctorates

You should read this report if you can, it’s really quite eye opening. (It’s in French.)

So, does the boys-do-science and girls-do-art thing start at primary school when the teacher asks a boy to help her turn the DVD player on or tells a girl off for not colouring in neatly? It makes you wonder.






0 Replies to “Liberté, Fraternité Maybe – But Égalité Is Struggling In French Schools”

  1. Interesting. After decades of teaching to boys, I think that education is more skewed towards teaching girls than boys in the United States.

    In any case, our daughter is working on her Ph.D. in science and our artsy son will finish his BA in advertising in May, so our children don’t fit the norm.

    1. There are plenty of artsy boys and scientific girls out there, but they are going against the general trend. I think Rors will be a scientist like his sister, and so be the one ‘norm’ out of our three, but time will tell.

  2. Very true here too. My eldest daughter is doing a science matura and is in a small minority of girls in her class. It’s noticeable too that the hunky boys don’t do science either – Robin is in a class of geeks, who are very nice, but not boyfriend material!!!

  3. I am happy to learn that more girls are attending colleges in the U.S. than boys though. Generally boys don’t sit still as much as girls in elementary schools. They tend to get into more trouble than girls, so there is an element of difference between the sexes as well. What do you think?

    1. I have to say I was surprised to find out that it’s the teachers who are propagating the inequality in French schools. The vast majority are women. You’d think they’d be a bit fairer to girls!

  4. The problem is that it isn’t just teachers, who may not even realise that they’re doing it, who are propagating inequality. Look at what is marketed to children these days. Boys things are dark and chunky, girls stuff is sickly pink. There are books aimed specifically at boys now, when I was young I happily read my brother’s books alongside my pony stories because it didn’t occur to me that they were for “boys” and not everyone. I dressed in jeans most of the time, look at what most eight year old girls wear today, little skirts and dinky shoes aren’t conducive to rushing around climbing trees and generally being energetic.
    We put three, now adult, girls through the system here. Two of them were true to cliché and bad at maths so they did Bacs L & STT respectively, the third did a bac S.
    Tell your daughter that the computer geek who was mercilessly bullied at lycee for being geeky and gawky is now, aged 22, impossibly good looking (and funny). He’s still a geek though.

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