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Schools and Work: Technical and Vocational Education in France since the Third Republic. .

Schools and Work: Technical and Vocational Education in France since the Third Republic. By Charles R. Day (Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen's University Press, 2001. xii plus 236pp.).

Historians of modern France are typically familiar with the nineteenth-century educational landmarks from Napoleon I to the early Third Republic that shaped primary and secondary schooling until the 1960s. Less well known is the history of post-primary technical and vocational education, which traditionally has lacked the social prestige of the academic secondary schools (lycees) preparing students for the examination for the baccalaureat required to enter universities. Day's well-researched and up-to-date survey thus provides a valuable introduction to an increasingly important educational sector. Although his primary focus is "intermediate" (that is, secondary-level) technical and vocational education, one chapter treats post-secondary institutions. The study also links curricular and administrative history to changes in government, the economy, and society. To help readers follow complex developmental threads, Day includes diagrams, tables, and a list of 45 common abbreviations for French educational terms.

By the 1890s the administration of technical and vocational education entailed rivalry between the Ministry of Public Instruction, whose primary education division housed the higher primary schools (ecoles primaires superieures, or EPS), and the Ministry of Commerce which oversaw the less numerous applied schools of commerce and industry (ecoles pratiques de commerce et d'industrie, or EPCI). Whereas the latter had a strictly vocational mission and mostly instructed males (only 13 of 69 EPCI were for girls in 1910), the former combined a general education track that could lead to departmental normal schools for primary schoolteachers and vocational options that competed with the EPCI for students. In 1920 the education ministry took over the EPCI which, together with the EPS vocational sections, became part of a technical education division with its own central administration.

That the longstanding structural barriers between primary and secondary education helped perpetuate divisions among social classes is a familiar theme, and to this Day adds an account of how technical education's champions sought to preserve its separate institutional identity. During the interwar decades reformers advocating the democratization of education favored creating an ecole unique, an intermediate school to be positioned between primary and secondary schools and intended to facilitate movement from primary to secondary schools at a time when compulsory primary schooling ended at the age of thirteen (raised to fourteen in 1936). Secondary school professors and their supporters opposed this reform, as did many teachers in both technical schools and higher primary schools, who feared losing a separate status. The Vichy regime partly broke the stalemate by turning the EPS into colleges, but the Fifth Republic, created in 1958, undertook the most basic restructuring, building upon the Fourth Republic's e xpansion of post-primary schooling in traditional academic lycees, technical schools, and the apprenticeship centers planned in 1938 and extended by Vichy.

The largest part of Day's survey deals with the Fifth Republic, under which distinctions increasingly developed between technical education and vocational education, the latter termed "professional" (professionnel) in France. Change occurred at all educational levels during the 1960s and 1970s. The length of primary schooling was reduced, the four-year intermediate school (college) was created to help democratize public education, many new secondary schools were opened, and soaring university enrollments, plus student riots in 1968, prompted the first major reorganization of universities since 1896. In 1960 the education ministry's technical division was abolished because the political left judged it an obstacle to democratizing and consolidating secondary education, the right "disliked its utilitarian approach," and, most importantly, influential technocrats in the new government wanted different leadership of this sector to meet increased demand for new types of skilled personnel (p. 51). Administrative arr angements for technical education have since varied.

With the launching of the Common Market governmental and business leaders pushed for economic modernization to make France more competitive with other European countries and the United States. As secondary schooling expanded, both before and after the school-leaving age was raised to sixteen for children entering primary school in 1959, technical high schools (lycees techniques) and, during the 1980s, professional high schools (lycees professionnels) replaced older technical colleges and apprenticeship centers. Specialized diplomas were also introduced. To the postwar technical baccalaureat the socialist government under president Francois Mitterrand added a "professional" baccalaureat in 1985, "the first time in the history of French education that the bac was associated with the vulgar term vocational and was awarded to workers" (p. 107). The mission of "technical" education, according to Day, is to train experts functioning just below the level of well-credentialed engineers and often supervising skilled w orkers, while "professional" education produces skilled employees and workers with fewer workplace responsibilities. Socialist governments of the 1980s also furthered greater local control of educational programs, in the process developing more links between schools and businesses. Compared to other European countries, France is unique for beginning vocational education in schools instead of the workplace, and students in such programs undertake work-study segments. During the 1990s technical lycees increasingly became part of general secondary schools (lycees d'enseignement general et technologique, or LEGT), but "professional" lycees remain separate and far less prestigious. Although technical and vocational education enrolled over half of all secondary school students and awarded 44 percent of baccalaureats by 1999, only 16 percent of bacs were vocational, and only a quarter of their recipients continued studies, as compared to more than 90 percent of those with general bacs and 80 percent with the technic al.

Day's discussion of higher education highlights innovations within universities and technical institutions and also the repeated frustration of efforts to gain for universities the prestige long enjoyed by grandes ecoles like the Ecole Polytechnique or Ecole des Mines, the oldest training grounds for engineers, or the many other technically oriented grandes ecoles. Opportunities for technicians other than engineers to obtain higher education began during the 1950s, as national professional schools acquired advanced technical sections (STS). In 1966 university institutes of technology (I.U.T) were created to fill the gap between the qualifications of professional engineers and technicians, and a new diploma (the DEUG) signified successful completion of two years of university study, whereas the traditional licence signified at least three years. Echoing sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, Day notes that the grandes ecoles, long the educators of a "state nobility," remain, statistically, as much the preserve of child ren of the bourgeoisie as during the 1950s. Furthermore, working-class students are less likely to complete university degrees than those from more advantaged social backgrounds. Nonetheless, Day is positive about the results of the great expansion of lower middle-class and working-class access to higher education and the related role of the newer technical options in secondary and higher education. Because the number of students in post-secondary education nearly doubled between 1980 and 1997, about half of French youth now undertake some kind of advanced study (as compared to less than 25 percent in 1973), and about 60 percent enroll in universities. Women, now 56 percent of university students, remain less likely to select engineering and certain technical specialties.

Social and bureaucratic obstacles to change notwithstanding, Day concludes that significant educational reform has occurred, particularly with pedagogical innovations outside the traditional academic curriculum, and he argues that technical and vocational schools have contributed much to recent economic growth, the opening of new job opportunities in the now dominant tertiary sector of the economy, and the French economy's greater international competitiveness.
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Author:Clark, Linda L.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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