Le bac - strikes against reforms
Bob Ponterio
SUNY Cortland

from le Nouvel Observateur

We often present student strikes in France as a cultural practice quite alien to most Americans, but these strikes can help us dig deeper into a French perspective that might not be evident to a foreigner.

"La loi Fillon" sought to modernize the bac, in part by making it less overwhelming for students. This reform would appear to make the students' lives easier, so why did they oppose it?

Question: According to this article, what will the reform change about the bac? How will this be accomplished? What are the two advantages?

From UNI - http://www.uni.asso.fr/spip.php?article377

1. The number of épreuves taken in the terminale year would be reduced to six.
2. Grades for other subjects would be based on assessments given by classroom teachers during the school year.
3. Lightening the exam load would give students more time for studying the main subjects at the end of the school year and would cost less.

Why should French students prefer a national examination rather than a grade based on class work and/or tests given by their own teachers - "le contrôle continu"? Examine the following excerpts from articles in Témoignages and Luttes étutiantes talking about two different sets of reforms. What are the two things that students are afraid will result from the use of "contrôles continus"?

Témoignages, 12 février, 2005


Luttes étudiantes, 12 juin, 2000

The bac would no longer have the same value from one lycée to another because the assessments would depend on individual teachers. Graduates from schools in poorer neighborhoods might be considered less capable even if they have high grades.

Prejudices of individual teachers could play a role in evaluating individual students. Teachers could play favorites when evaluating student work that is not anonymous.

The bac is graded by teachers who are paid by the copy to evaluate the work without knowing who the student is. Indeed, teachers do not grade their own students. This practice can be compared to the "concours" for entrance into the grandes écoles, beginning with the École Polytechnique in 1794, during the French revolution. This method evaluation is intended to prevent privilege from playing a role. Success is determined solely by the individual's merit, and everyone is supposed to have the same chance. Leveling the playing field was a goal of the revolutionaries in eliminating aristocratic privilege.

How can we be sure that a teacher's prejudices based on sex, ethic origin, or even a bad experience with an individual student won't skew a grade, even unintentionally?

This concern extends beyond the bac or the concours. In French universities, student names on answer sheets are placed in the top right corner, which is folded down and glued to prevent the corrector from seeing the student's name.

In some cases, students make up unique identification numbers to keep various parts of their exams together without putting their name on the sheet. In multisection courses having combined exams, teachers most often do not even correct their own students' papers. Various methods can be used to ensure anonymity.


Student grades may be posted in public for all to see, but the teacher is not allowed to know whose paper he is grading.