Quelle Catastrophe! – How the French Educational System Doesn’t Work on Wednesdays
When we moved to France six years ago, we had a broad apprehension of its cultural and culinary highlights, key historical data and the essential basics of its political system. But there was one thing that escaped our knowledge: the peculiarity of Wednesdays.
As it turned out, in France mid-week is quite special.
Weekly cabinet meetings are held on Wednesdays, be-annual sales commence on a Wednesday, movie premiers are scheduled on that day; the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné is published on Wednesdays; even Air France introduced special WOW fares on that day.
However, there is another fact that would send any non-National into consternation: up until the year 2014 there was no school on Wednesday.
It has been a tradition in the French educational system since 1882 when primary education became compulsory in France, and midweek was reserved for a religion class – a concession to the Roman Catholic Church, which required children to study catechism on their weekday off.
Later on, in 1972 a governmental regulation confirmed Wednesday (instead of previously Thursday) as the compulsory day free of education, and set in action an entire system of extracurricular activities (such as sport, music and language lessons) and day-care centers to accommodate school-free pupils.
All of France (except us, the newcomers) was accustomed to the idea of a hump day, to that extend that no employer took offence when most of his staff wouldn’t show up for work on a Wednesday.
The practice changed dramatically last year, in 2014, with the new French educational system reform of the cabinet of Mr. Hollande. The new government intended to improve the academic conditions (including a longer, and therefore exhausting day and thus a shorter week), by changing the rhytmes scolaires (scholastic rhythms), through a reduction of hours spent daily in school and introduction of a five-day school week (like everywhere else in the world).
Up until now, primary school pupils (High school students already had a longer week) were attending school from 9:10 am until 4:40 pm (with an 1.5 h lunch break in between) four days a week. This changed into four days of 8:45 am until 3:45 pm (including lunch) and a very short Wednesday from 8:45 am to 11:45 am.
The municipal authorities attempted to solve the issue of working parents being obliged to pick up their children very early in the day, by introducing free of charge after-school activities (from 3:45 pm until 4:30 pm), including theater, drawing classes, sport and music. Except of course on unfortunate Wednesdays, when neither lunch in the cantina nor supplementary classes are offered to further frustrate already discouraged caregivers.
Most of them are required to cut their mid-week short, in order to collect their children from school in the middle of the day, and rush them to a care center or take the rest of the day off to babysit them at home.
Besides creating chaos in the French educational system, the new adjustments completely outraged discontent parents and overwhelmed teachers, and as a result unleashed countless protests and communal petitions. Nobody is happy, neither the instructors, the parents, not even the pupils, who got used to not having to hurry to school on Wednesday morning.
In fact, there is a Facebook page dedicated to boycotting Wednesday mornings called Les parents boycottent l’ecole le mercredi matin, in an attempt to change the existing status quo and revert to the ancient system. It argues that the new arrangement in reality signifies exhausted children, disorganization and additional costs for the local communes.
In the Alps, parents of certain schools don’t comply with the newly introduced system and keep their children at home every second Wednesday. In Ganzeville, a small city in Seine-Maritime, a mayor went even that far, as to refuse to open his school on that very day.
From the perspective of an outsider but also a mother, who has her children attending a local school in France, I’m eager to see what the future brings to the catastrophic Wednesday, given its peculiarity in the French educational system.