The benefits of second language immersion education are well established. Researchers confirm that students who are fluent in several languages develop cognitive and analytical skills that are more advanced than their monolingual peers. Second language immersion education also promotes adaptability, flexibility and creativity, as children are expected to toggle between multiple languages according to environment. This everyday challenge may explain why multilingual students typically receive high marks in academic achievement tests.
France’s renowned École Maternelle has been imitated in many countries. The French preschool is an integrated and essential first phase of the educational system. Maternelle teachers, who have the same 4-year college degree as primary teachers, have solid training in child psychology and physical development, as well as education. They begin preparing the youngest children for the work they will be asked to do later in elementary school.
Each subject and activity in Maternelle is linked. Rather than arithmetic, science and language being treated separately, the curriculum focuses on general concepts, such as logical thinking, which incorporate something from each field. For example, recognizing that learning has a physical component at early ages, the Maternelle program includes a daily gymnastic session, in which preschoolers must navigate a parcourse of balance beams, climbing structures and crawling tubes.
The parcourse is specifically designed to reinforce a concept, such as placing oneself in space: top-to-bottom, and left-to-right. Similar motions are then practiced on a smaller scale, during graphic exercises on paper. Although it wouldn’t be apparent to a casual observer, the children are learning pre-writing skills.
Music, art, stories, theater, puppets and field trips complement the “academic” subjects introduced during the Maternelle years. Although reading does not formally begin until 1st grade, preschoolers learn to write their own names and to recognize the names of their classmates and familiar words such as the days of the week.
Another essential aspect of the Lycée’s Maternelle program is socialization. The school day is highly structured, incorporating specific periods for free, self-directed play. Children learn to express themselves in a manner appropriate to the time and place, and to distinguish the difference. They are taught to respect others, and to understand the consequences of their behavior. Teachers rarely resolve disputes directly – this is something the children are encouraged to do themselves, acquiring both autonomy and a sense of responsibility and mutual respect.
Language skills and oral expression are high priorities. A significant part of every school day is devoted to poetry, creative writing, formal composition, speech and spelling. Reading begins in first grade and is first taught in French. After the first ten weeks of school, 1st graders begin to read in English. They are also taught to write in cursive and to read all written forms.
The teaching of mathematics is another point of pride for the French educational system. It is a global approach in which students are exposed early to a wide range of mathematical concepts: geometry, addition, subtraction and multiplication, algebra, fractions, the decimal system, etc. Each year these mathematical concepts are expanded and students’ comprehension deepens.
Logic and expression are always prioritized. Calculating the correct answer is not sufficient; a student must explain how the answer was obtained, and why. Logic and the ability to articulate one’s reasoning are emphasized in every grade and field. Multiple-choice and true/false questions are virtually nonexistent.
In all subjects, students are required to develop answers in thoughtfully organized essay form. Presentation, neatness, and respect for one’s study materials are viewed as necessary preconditions for serious learning. In primary grades, students learn study methods which they will use through high school and later in university.
Beginning with 6th grade, each subject is taught by a specialist whose university training differs from that of colleagues who teach primary grades. There is the equivalent of a homeroom teacher/advisor for each class. In 6th grade, students may begin to learn a third language in an academic setting. Computer classes also begin in 6th grade. Science is expanded to include biology, geology, chemistry and physics. Statistics and functions are added to the mathematics program. Students also study English literature, U.S. and world history, and geography.
The 9th grade is the Orientation Cycle, designed to help students select a field of specialization for high school. At the conclusion of 9th grade, students take the Brevet des Collèges examination in French, mathematics and history-geography.
In the French education system, students choose a technical, professional, or pre-university high school. Lycée Français follows the college preparatory track of the French educational system. In addition to preparing for the French Baccalauréat, which will allow students to apply to French universities, our students obtain an American high school diploma.
High school students choose one of three general areas of study for the 11th and 12th grades, corresponding to the three most prestigious Baccalauréat diplomas. Students may also choose these tracks with the International option of the Baccalaureat: S = mathematics/biology/physics/chemistry; ES = economic sciences/math/history/languages; L = literature/languages/philosophy.
General studies continue, but approximately 50-70% of students’ course work will be in classes specifically oriented toward their chosen program. For example, all students take math, but the type of math class varies according to the diploma being sought. Every course is a year in duration, as opposed to quarter or semester-length classes. Baccalauréat examinations are administered by the French Ministry of Education. Over a period of several days students will complete a 3 to 4-hour written and oral examination in each of four or five subjects. The questions are theoretical, testing the student’s thorough knowledge of the field, ability to use abstract reasoning, and written and oral communication skills.