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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les programmes vus de l’Elysée

by Marie-Noêlle Bertrand

A President’s Views on Curricula

Translated Tuesday 19 February 2008, by Isabelle Métral

President Sarkozy wants "deputies to decide what must be taught in French schools".

Civic and moral instruction

Here is Nicolas Sarkozy’s latest idea: the head of state would like politeness, civility, respect for the values and emblems of the French Republic to be taught in primary schools: namely the French tricolour, Marianne’s face (the French allegory for the Republic), and the national anthem — during the singing of which pupils should stay standing up.

In secondary schools civic and moral instruction shall focus on “the basic lines along which civic life is organized and the basic rules on which democracy is founded: the prohibition of all form of discrimination whatsoever, representative democracy, the legislative process, the executive function, the uses of national solidarity.” The ten and eleven-year-olds’ initiation to the tragedy of the Shoah [1] would take place within the frame of that instruction, entrusting to them the memory of the 11,000 children that fell victims to it.

Back to basics

As provided in the framework law passed in 2005 on François Fillon’s initiative, curricula will go back to the basics: arithmetic, for the teaching of which Nicolas Sarkozy wants “automatic reflexes” to be cultivated as soon as possible, notably through the practice of mental arithmetic, mastery of the language: vocabulary, spelling and lastly grammar. As provided in the 2005 law, pupils will be assessed at the end of their second and fifth years.

Because he does not want the drafting of curricula “to occasion dazzling academic disputes between rival pedagogic persuasions”, the head of state entrusts the deputies with the task of determining what “in the boundless field of knowledge deserves to be studied by pupils”. The framework law had set up a High Committee for Education (CSE) in charge of defining the core curriculum. Last April the High Committee drafted new curricula for primary education, which former Minister of Education Gilles de Robien presented. They prescribed, among other measures, fifteen minutes of mental arithmetic per day.

[1Also termed the holocaust.

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