French president Emmanuel Macron has planned a reform to reduce the compulsory school starting age from six to three years. While this might sound drastic in most countries, in France, the situation is a fair bit different since the vast majorities of families already send their children to nursery school at age three.
According to President Macron, making nursery school compulsory will reduce the differences that result from having some children in nursery school and others not, seeing as it is mostly children from poorer, rural areas of the country or in the French overseas territories that are deprived of attending nursery school. Personally, I think the disparities that divide the French society are too vast to be evened out by reducing the compulsory school age, but it’s also worth a shot, I guess.
As someone who has done her entire schooling (including nursery school) in the French education system and not come out of it utterly traumatized, I have to admit (maybe from a remotely biased position) that I don’t see the inconvenience of making nursery school compulsory.
It can certainly be argued that our version of nursery school is a pretty intense one: school from 8.30 a.m. until 4pm every day, with Wednesday afternoons off, and school every second Saturday morning is admittedly a pretty tight schedule for toddlers.
In addition to that, we also learn the basics of reading and writing in nursery school, which becomes particularly relevant once elementary school starts. That’s when you notice that a majority of the class has attended nursery school and a few children haven’t. Since the gap between children that attend nursery school and those that don’t is mostly regional, this creates regions in France that automatically fall behind on the curriculum.
Even though I can understand concerns about starting “real” education so early and thus taking away from a fun, lighthearted childhood, I have nothing but great memories from my three years of nursery school. I don’t remember having to sit down and learn my alphabet from age three, instead, I remember the chanting I broke into every day when my mom picked me up and asked what I had done today: “I played, and I painted, and I sang.” Reading and writing was taught in such a playful way that it just so happened as a fun side fact that by the time I started elementary school, I knew how to write out basic words and read short sentences.
I don’t just think that making nursery school compulsory is a good idea for the sake of evening out the disparities in France (especially since I don’t believe that that would be close to being enough to reduce the differences in our very classist society). I do, however, believe that it carries more advantages, amongst which there are the very necessary social interactions between children and other children, but also between children and adults other than their parents. And I don’t just say that because I still remember and admire my fabulous nursery school teacher Madame Brun. But especially in rural areas, for families with only one child, I think it is essential for children to be able to interact with other children.
Macron has gained a reputation for his intense plans for reforms, some of which are certainly questionable. This one, however, actually seems to be one of his better ideas.