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May 26, 2006

Homeschooling on the Rise in France

This article first appeared in the Home Schooling News, a newsletter by Pestalozzi Trust (Vol. 10. no. 1 November 2005)

When twelve million French children return to school in November after a two-week holiday, several thousand others will stay home because their parents have opted out of a system they claim no longer adequately teaches basic skills.

In France, which has always prided itself on the efficacy and quality of its highly centralized school system, home-schooled kids number less than 20,000, not counting another 40,000 children who study outside of school in state-run programs due to illness or careers in sports or music.

But a decade ago there were even fewer, and the rapidly growing number of stay-at-home children is seen by many as a warning sign about the health of the public school system.

At the beginning of this year, then-Education Minister Francois Fillon told the parliamentary committee on education that “80,000 children start secondary school without really knowing how to read, write or count.”

That is the main reason “parents who decide to homeschool their children,” said Catherine Joussee, director of the Cours Hattemer distance-learning department. “And they are not all city dwellers from the upper echelons of society—far from it. But they want to give their children a better chance.”

Jean-Claude Marcel of “Les Enfants d'Abord” (Children First), an association of 400 home-schooling families, said that although French law allows home-schooling “most French people don’t know they have this choice.”

The government keeps a close eye on children who opt out of a formal teaching framework, to monitor progress and to guard against cults.