Achievements in cultural diversity … France included!

Posted by Rozenn Milin on May 26, 2010

Those who tend to travel around our site might have noticed how much there is on Africa, Latin America, Oceania or India… Some may even end up thinking it is easier to handle questions of diversity in distant countries rather than in our homelands: distance gives these cultures a tinge of mystery, of uniqueness, and makes them somehow more seducing, more precious.

Yet the languages of the French Hexagon – Basque, Breton, Corsican, Occitan, Alsatian, etc. are also worth attention, and it is equally important to have them protected. Numerous activists have devoted themselves to these languages over the decades, and just for the sake of good news we cannot resist the pleasure of telling you about school results in the bilingual Breton-French educational system, implemented in Brittany around 30 years ago.

French daily paper Le Figaro has recently published their 2010 French high-school school ranking, and the results of this survey must have surprised many of the paper’s readers. No “grand” Parisian school in the lead: the first place comes to a school located in Beaune, region of Burgundy, and the second, to the Diwan school of Carhaix in the Finistère Department, on the west tip of Brittany…

The success of regional language education

Created in 1977, Diwan is a federation of free schools, ranging from kindergarten to the end of secondary school, which distinguish themselves for providing instruction… in Breton. The Diwan method is based on immersion: French is progressively introduced from the second year of elementary school; at the beginning of collège (French equivalent of junior high-school), the instruction divides into two thirds taught in Breton/one third in French; and then from the third year of secondary school, some subjects start being provided in English.

First-off when visiting these schools, the most striking is the children’s open-mindedness: teenagers who speak fluent English, the Arabic classes in remote Brittany, the generalized practice of music, etc.

And the results speak for themselves: in French, the evaluations conducted during elementary school and the beginning of middle school show that the level of Diwan pupils is by and large above national average. In 1992, eight of the first Diwan pupils passed their Brevet des collèges exam (French equivalent to the British GCSE) as well as the English Cambridge First Degree with a 100% success rate. And in 2010, Le Figaro ranks the Carhaix Diwan school “2nd best secondary school in France”, among 1 930 other schools across the country.

Drastic selection or pupil support?

An explanation to those who find this last result surprising, given that the success rate of the 2009 baccalauréat (the French final secondary school diploma) was “only” of 99% for Carhaix junior-high, whereas more prestigious schools such as Louis Le Grand or Henri IV ended up with 100%: the rate referred to from now on is a “cohort rate”, considered as more relevant.

The baccalauréat success gross rate may in many cases result from a drastic selection carried out beforehand, and thus the whole point of using a cohort rate is that it takes several other elements into account (rate of access to the final exam, proportion of pupils who pass the exam, etc.). The whole point, basically, is to assess how much support the pupils get from the time they enter high-school, and how much effort is put into the actual success of instruction without relying on a methodical selection that aims for high scores as an only target.

The results of this “modest” little school making its way through the years clearly show that education in regional language has proven its efficiency. Beyond the tangibility of this success, however, it is important to note that these schools are all but discriminative (contrary to the recent statements of some political and union leaders) as they provide support to pupils regardless of their initial abilities. And the chances are that when these youngsters eventually leave school, they’re actually prepared to face the world in all its diversity, free of value judgment and filled with open-mindedness.

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