French 15-year-olds hit a bad spell

2nd February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 2 (AFP) - The number of French 15 year-olds unable to spell correctly has doubled in the last four years with more than 56 percent scoring zero out of 20 in an exam-level dictation, according to a group that campaigns for a return to traditional teaching methods in schools.

PARIS, Feb 2 (AFP) - The number of French 15 year-olds unable to spell correctly has doubled in the last four years with more than 56 percent scoring zero out of 20 in an exam-level dictation, according to a group that campaigns for a return to traditional teaching methods in schools.

In the same test in 2000 fewer than 28 percent failed to get a single point, said the organisation "Sauver les lettres" - Save letters - which described the rapid deterioration as "catastrophic."

Some 2,300 teenagers were read a 170-word passage by the 19th century writer Alphonse Daudet which originally appeared in the French paper of the 1988 "brevet" - a public examination taken by 15 year-olds before they graduate to lycees.

According to figures published on the group's Internet site, the number of pupils getting 15 or more out of 20 in the dictation fell to just six percent, while the proportion scoring nil rose from 27.95 percent to 56.4.

"The result is frightening. In 2004 a clear majority of pupils entering 'general' and 'technology' lycees have spelling that is so bad that they would have got zero out of 20 at the 'brevet,'" said Sauver les lettres, which is a collective of secondary school teachers.

It said the national spelling statistics would be even worse because pupils trying to enter so-called 'professional' lycees - for the 35 percent who are academically least gifted - were not included in the test.

The organisation blamed the decline partly on the falling number of hours dedicated to French in schools, but primarily on the introduction of so-called ‘global’ teaching methods which play down the importance of rules.

In a series of grammar questions attached to the dictation, the vast majority of answers - up to 95 percent for some - were also wrong.

"What is left when 95 percent of young lycee students cannot tell a complement from an attribute, or recognise a relative clause. Today's pupils live in a conceptual fog which explains their constant difficulty in understanding what they read," the group said.

France's centre-right government issued a circular to teachers last year asking for greater emphasis on dictation, recitation and other traditional forms of French teaching.

But Sauver les lettres said the damage caused by 'global' teaching methods was already encouraging many parents to send their children into the semi-private Catholic sector, where the new thinking has had less impact.

"The feebler the mastery of language among the population, the more it becomes an exorbitant privilege for those who possess it - in a world where the importance of the written word never ceases to grow," it said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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