Inequality and education in france

March 25 2017

whatever path you have chosen, I hope you're doing well and thriving.

Lately I developed an strong interest in the dynamics of inequality, therefore here is a subjective first look at how it inhabits the french school system.
More than the usual numbers of income and wealth distribution, I believe that inequality really manifests it's weight when one finds themselves limited in the range of education and positions that they might attain because of their environment.

I'm a 20 year old student of french “ grandes écoles “. It is some sort of an unique organization of higher education which is in theory centered around meritocracy, the summit of a school system built for perfect equality.
Up to the end of high school we have national standardized courses and a high school diploma (the “baccalauréat”) which is a peculiar national rite of passage into adulthood. Yet it undeniably has failed. Thought for equality, this system is one of the most unfair in the developed world (according to studies by the OECD). Basically, as long as you are well informed and guided you will know how to work through it, finding the good middle school, to get into the good high school, to get in the good “classe préparatoire”, and then/or the good higher education establishment. To have a good shot you need to catch the train so early that only the informed and the wealthy do it well.
Don't get me wrong, some of the less fortunate students still make and it we also have a wide and strong public university system. But they are outliers and otherwise we put so much weight on the college we went to for the rest of our lives that at barely more than 18 those who reached selective establishments are nearly already part of their own social category, of the so called 'elites'.

All of this is swept under the rug as we keep the belief that the sacrosanct rite of 'competitive examination' - which is used for every selection from college entry to any public job opening (you have certainly heard of our sizable public administration) and state sanctioned diploma such as teacher, doctor... - is fair, because the day it strikes, everybody is indeed in the same situation. Yet we forget and like to forget all the bias and inequalities that generated such wide gaps in the quality and nature of the preparation that they can not be bridged.

I have been lucky enough to fall on the easy road, and have parents that went out to find everything they could so I could get the best education possible. Now, more than owing them, I feel that beyond the specifics of this story and country, we need to be particularly conscious of the power of education and information as they are the only way to durably overcome inequality both at home and abroad.

On some sort of a lighter topics two great nonfiction books:
-The well known “Freakonomics”
-”Thinking fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman
and as an everlasting building block for any analysis on the role of the state:
-”Leviathan” Thomas Hobbes

I'm always looking for new perspectives and suggestions so if you want to talk about anything (I really mean anything), or suggest books, music or movies, feel free to reach out.

[email protected]

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