Traditional pedagogy, which ignores what sociologists call the differentiated cultural capital of students, is at the origin of academic failure. And academic failure heralds the abandonment of studies, a deplorable problem which concerns thousands and thousands of students each year. In 2019-2020, 10,000 young people left school without a diploma. Most of these students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The curriculum is for school people prescriptive. No one can deviate from it. It specifies the disciplines to be taught. All are structured into annual programs allocated to the degrees of the course. Hence a standard: every year, all children and adolescents must learn, follow the same progression, at the same pace, in the same time. Inevitably, some succeed, others fail and leave school. It’s written in the curriculum.
Just talking about academic results shows that students are different. Statistical facts underline that the school system mainly targets advantaged students who have the cultural heritage required to succeed.
Teachers and professionals get involved to help students in difficulty. Failure, repeating a year, sometimes differentiated educational orientations confirm that the school is not adapted to all students, that it is indifferent to the differences between them. Finally, the students’ intimate representations show that academic failure has direct and negative effects on their self-image. Effects that never fade. We have known this for years, even decades.
The fact of respecting this particularly unsuitable, even nasty, curriculum year after year affects thousands of students in schools in disadvantaged areas and those with learning difficulties for life. But the law is the law. No one can deviate from the curriculum. Year after year, we start again. It’s a shame when we know we could do otherwise.
Teaching differently is possible. More than twenty years ago, in a disadvantaged Parisian suburb, a researcher studied the complex problems linked to learning to read and write. Following his extensive research, he has developed unique, very rich teaching materials aimed at five and six year old students. The first part concerns the knowledge and skills required for any rewarding engagement in learning to read. The second is learning to read and write. Booklets, hundreds of progressive exercises, boards, labels, flap notebooks, a collection of sound and talking mini-books and more are available to students.
All students progress and succeed, each at their own pace.
Teaching differently is also done in secondary school. As a social worker, I visited a public secondary school in the north of Montreal in which the teachers had decided to put aside traditional pedagogy to adopt individualized pedagogy. Failures disappeared and the master-student relationship was transformed. It has become more personal and rewarding for both students and teachers, who they told me will never go back.
The unbearable lightness, even indifference, of the Ministry of Education with regard to the academic failure of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with learning difficulties, is unbearable. How can the Ministry of Education explain to the parents of the students concerned about dropping out of school? How ?
Are we to believe that we are going to continue like this and leave school staff alone to face this terrible problem of academic failure and force teachers to continue as if nothing had happened?
Mr. Minister of Education, the worrying and alarming statistics on school failure and dropouts in schools in disadvantaged areas call for the urgent production of a plan to combat these problems. A plan that favors individualized teaching.
We can no longer support under-enrollment and exclusion in any way, the costs of which are inestimable, just as we can no longer continue to blame the failure of school on students and their parents. The urgency to act is there, omnipresent.