13th February 2013
For more than a century, the lengthy school days of French children have been punctuated by a midweek day off, in recent decades for most children on Wednesdays, originally created for catechism studies.
But nobody does catechism any more.
The long hours and peculiar weekly rhythm have been criticized as counterproductive to learning and blamed for keeping women out of the full-time work force, as well as widening inequalities between rich and poor because of the demands they place on working parents. Yet the Wednesday break has remained a fulcrum of French family life.
God forbid that French family life should stand in the way of keeping women out of the full-time work force.
With all that in mind, the government of President François Hollande recently issued a decree introducing a half day of school on Wednesdays for children 3 to 11 starting in September, while reducing the school day by 45 minutes the rest of the week. In a country with a broad consensus in favor of shortening a school day that typically runs from 8:30 a.m. to at least 4 p.m., and sometimes longer, Mr. Hollande’s government still did not expect the plan to be controversial. It has not worked out that way.
Note the key word ‘decree’. Government knows best, so better get with the program.
Instead, the edict has incited a wave of protest from France’s powerful teachers unions, parents associations and city governments, which say it was produced without their consultation, is short on details and fails to address deeper concerns about the middling performance of French schoolchildren compared with their peers in other industrialized countries.
Sure sounds like a government program to me. Where’s the problem?