Friday, June 22 opened bright and early by traveling via the Paris Metro for parallel visits to two primary schools — Ecole Elementaire de rue de la Mare and Ecole Primaire d’application de rue de Saint Sebastien. Outside each of these schools was a prominent plaque memorializing the Jewish students who were led from these schools during World War II to be sent to concentration camps.
Guided by Yves Zarka, deputy inspector, Academie de Paris for primary schools, and the school head master, Roundtable members visiting the school at Saint Sebastion examined an English-language classroom for 10- and 11-years olds and discussed education issues with the headmaster, teachers, and M. Zarka. (Academies in France are 30 state-like administrative units responsible for carrying out policy set at the national level. The Academie de Paris is responsible for some 180,000 elementary and secondary students.)
Meanwhile at the elementary school on rue de la Mare, Roundtable members were greeted by the headmaster M. Fey and engaged in an hour-long discussion with Jean Pierre Prevost, inspector for the Paris Academie’s 11th Arrondissement (district) and Francois Neuville, head of the office of international relations for the Rectorat of Paris, which oversees both elementary and secondary education and higher education. They described a system that had been centralized since the time of Napoleon, in which education is compulsory from age 5 on, is non-fee paying, and strictly prohibits the teaching of religion. Every teacher in France is an employee of the state (i.e., France), and educators account for perhaps 60% of government employees. General inspectors are responsible for quality control at the primary level; at the secondary level, inspectors exist by subject-matter specialty. Given the social challenges facing schools, jobs as teachers and administrators are getting tougher and less attractive, they reported. The delegation then visited a classroom in which a highly-skilled master teacher used them as a dress rehearsal audience for 10-11-year-old students preparing impressive dramatic skits to be presented to parents that evening.