Between the students, “considerable” inequalities but which are no longer widening

Posted Dec 28 2022 at 02:07 PMUpdated Dec 28. 2022 at 16:10

Between two fifteen-year-old pupils, the difference in level can reach more than two and a half years of schooling, depending on their social origin. An unbearable gap for the Minister of National Education, who intends to make the fight against inequality one of his hobbyhorses. This gap was measured in the latest Pisa survey from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In France, it can reach 107 points, while the OECD average is 89 points. “It’s considerable”, for Thierry Rocher, in charge of these questions at the statistical service of the Ministry of National Education.

The “static” map of priority education

Social inequalities are “early”, he stresses. And they “are growing at school and college”, especially in mathematics, a discipline where social markers are “very strong”.

In a recent column in the “Monde”, the Minister of National Education Pap Ndiaye said he wanted to “fight against all social determinism and all assignments”. For him, “a school which, while promising it, does not grant equality produces not only injustice, but also distrust and a feeling of anger in the working classes”. Objectives will be “assigned” to rectors who, with local authorities, will be able to “act on school assignments”, he said, promising actions to “promote diversity” within “a few weeks”.

At the beginning of November, Pap Ndiaye had already promised to “retouch” the priority education map. “We must be able to leave establishments that no longer correspond to priority education and bring in others,” he said, judging the current model “quite static”. Private education under contract which welcomes more students from privileged backgrounds, is called upon to “contribute to this effort” of diversity.

“Do not fall into fatalism”

As important as they are, the gaps between students are no longer widening. “There is a stabilization of this high level of social inequalities,” says Eric Charbonnier, expert in charge of education at the OECD. We cannot be satisfied with it, but we will have to follow this trend because there has been in France, since 2012, a real desire to fight against social inequalities. »

We sometimes have the impression, in certain debates, that France is the worst country in the OECD in terms of inequality. This is not the case. We must not fall into fatalism.

ERIC CHARBONNIER Education expert at the OECD

France is poorly placed for inequalities linked to the socio-economic background of students. But she “does better” on gender inequalities, he adds. The differences between girls and boys in written performance are “less serious” than elsewhere, while Norway and Finland are concerned about the greater difficulties of boys in their education system.

In terms of access to education, the expert also underlines the “sharp drop” in the number of young people without a diploma for ten years (12% in 2021 against 17% in 2011), and the democratization of higher education, even if “young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are overrepresented in short courses”. “We sometimes have the impression, in certain debates, that France is the worst country in the OECD in terms of inequality,” continues Eric Charbonnier. This is not the case. We must not fall into fatalism. »

Skeptical teachers

One should not idealize this or that recipe, like the increased autonomy of institutions, he warns. Eric Charbonnier warns against the example of Sweden which, with “a completely decentralized education system”, has “generated a negative effect on social inequalities, which have increased enormously”.

To fight against these inequalities, Pap Ndiaye will have to convince teachers that the education system is capable of reducing them. Only 23% of teachers believe in it, according to a survey conducted last January by the CSA institute for the Senate. Parents (who answered “yes” at 41%) are more optimistic.

Between the students, “considerable” inequalities but which are no longer widening