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Preschool Education: France vs. United States

By rana2858 Apr 30, 2013 1380 Words
Preschool Education: France vs. United States

France vs. United States

These educational deference’s are spread out all across the spectrum, from how each system originated to the manner in which teachers are employed to federal education budget; the list of differences is a lengthy one. At the most basic level, French education might seem superior to American education; the federal budget for French schooling is just under $83 billion compared to America’s $69.4 billion. This might be one reason why, in France, the Ministry of National Education is the nation’s largest employer, one responsible for the jobs of every educator from the earliest levels of schooling to professors and researchers, while American grade school teachers are employed district by district, and professors by their respective university or college. Indeed, France's approach to learning is fundamentally very different than that of the United States, as explained in the following quote from Fraser (1963):

"In 1957 the Ministry of National Education gave the Following account of school organization in France: 'The Hierarchy of the three great branches, Primary, Secondary, And Higher, as conceived by the Constituent Assembly and Built by Napoleon - to which was later added Technical Education - remains the basis of our school organization.'"

This might not sound very significant, but what is being said here is that a French education is rooted in three parts while the American education is essentially broken into only two, those being primary and secondary, with the third part, higher education, increasingly becoming a privilege that not enough of our students enjoy. Discounting college attendance rates, there exists a rift between high school graduation rates in the two nations. In fact, in 2001, an estimated 70% of American public high school students graduated. France's aim for high school graduation rates was 80%. French schools are divided into four parts: Maternelle (kindergarten), École élémentaire (Primary school), Collège (Junior High), and Lycée (High school), with their grades counting down the further one goes. American schools are generally divided into three or four parts, counting up as one goes along: preschool and kindergarten, elementary school, junior high and high school.

Many parents in both countries see kindergarten and elementary school, or maternelle and école élémentaire, as a pivotal point in the lives of their children. While attendance in maternelle and kindergarten are mandatory in both nations, parents in each sometimes opt to send their young to school early, as young as age 3 or 4. In America, this institution is called preschool, while in France it is referred to as maternelle, and it is split into three one-year sections. These sections are petite section (age 3), moyenne section (age 4) and grande section (age 5); some parents, however, opt to send their children to a pre-maternelle institution, more commonly known in the States as a daycare center and école élémentaire. Children in both countries are required to attend primary schools, but while France has a nationwide mandate set forth to dictate that all 6 year old children must begin going to school , American rules vary from state to state, some making children start school at age 5, others at age 6. The general consensus in both countries however, is that it is in the best interest of the child to begin schooling earlier than this. The benefits of earlier education are numerous, as it sets forth a pattern of learning and hints of discipline, of having somewhere to be other than in front of the television, as well as giving young children a jump on honing their social skills in a smaller class setting before they are thrust into a generally larger kindergarten or maternelle class.

When it comes to early childhood education, the U.S. ranks near the bottom of the class. Nearly every other major industrialized nation and even some developing countries see the job of educating young children as a public responsibility, not simply a family issue. In France more than 80% of youngsters between the ages of 3 and 6 attend preschool programs. The French preschool follows a definite curriculum for three full years: the younger section (age 3-4), the middle section (age 4-5) and the older section, corresponding to our kindergarten (age 5-6). For each age group, definite psychomotor, developmental, academic and social goals have been outlined nation wide for all schools, while at the same time, individual schools and their well-prepared teachers are encouraged to follow their own best judgment in attaining the common goals by being sensitive to individual variations.


The cost for school is based on a family's income; in some of the poorer areas parents pay as little as one franc (16 cents) a day. In the U.S., Head Start has been helping poor preschoolers and their families for more than 25 years. But despite its proven success, the federal program has the money to serve only 28% of eligible children. Families earning too much to qualify for Head Start and too little to afford private preschools -- in other words, most American families -- must scramble to find acceptable programs. However instead of causing a lasting benefit through the grades, Head Start yields only slight benefits in the first grade which fade out entirely by third or fourth grade. Most children in France from 3 to 6 years old enroll in public classes run by the Ministry of Education (the curriculum in France is state controlled and it differs according to age group). To accommodate working parents, preschools offer activities before and after school, during vacations, and on Wednesdays, when school is not in session. Parents pay about $210 a year for this additional service. The French government subsidizes two kinds of day care programs for the infants and toddlers of working parents. Family day care, a collection of home-based caregivers, costs from $11 to $18 a day. Larger day care centers charge somewhat less.

Teacher Training

Prior to 1991-92, école maternelle teachers were trained separately from elementary school teachers. After obtaining a high school diploma, école maternelle teachers had to enroll in a 2-year professional training Course in post-secondary schools. Upon successful completion, they were qualified to teach in écoles maternelles only. By contrast, the new system introduced in 1991-92 integrated the training of teachers of école maternelles and elementary schools. A 3-year university degree is required for both groups of teachers, followed by professional teacher training that lasts 2 years. Like elementary school teachers, école maternelle teachers are now required to have a total of 5 years at the university level, which is the highest requirement for preschool teachers among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Both école maternelle and elementary teachers are entitled to 36 weeks of government-paid, continuous training, most of which is taken in the beginning of their careers. Inspectors and pedagogical counsellors also provide teachers with 4 half-days of obligatory training per year. In Addition, a long-established professional association for école maternelle teachers, the Association Générale des Institutrices et Instituteurs des Ecoles Maternelles Publiques, offers annual conferences and other kinds of professional support. Teachers can opt to work in either écoles maternelles or elementary schools, and can move from one to the other at any point in their careers. This flexibility is regarded as a positive change introduced in 1991-92, and is appreciated by teachers. Moreover, école maternelle teachers have opportunities to become school directors, teacher trainers, school counselors, school inspectors and even secondary and high school teachers if they pass an internal competitive examination. The French pay starting preschool teachers $17,480 a year (vs. about $11,000 in the U.S.), and, perhaps as a result, France has a vintage early childhood education program that works so well for their country.


"Education in France." (n.d.). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.

"Education in the United States." (n.d.) Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.

Fraser, W. R. (1963). Education and Society in Modern France. New York: The Humanities Press.

Equity Effects of Very Early Schooling in France by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. France.pdf

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