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Friday, April 5, 2013

Baccalauréat 2013 and Ô Canada

The French baccalauréat, the exam that French students take at their end of their studies, is a grueling exercise.  Created in 1808,  the format of the French "Bac" is a combination of written (essay questions) and orals.  It serves two purposes - it marks the end of high school and opens the way to higher education in France or abroad.

The exact nature of the exam depends on the kind of Bac a student aspires to: général, technologique or  professionel. Within the baccalauréat général (which is primarily for students headed for university) there are three possible disciplines to choose from: Literature (Bac L), Science (Bac S) and Economy and Society (Bac ES).

The grading of these exams is pretty tough.  In 2012 there were 703,059 candidates registered for the exam: 48% for the baccalauréat général, 21% for the bac technologique and 31% for the bac professionel. The success rates were: 79.3% for the general bac, 69% for the technology bac and nearly 69% for the professional bac. Over 175,000 educators were directly involved as exam administrators, monitors and correctors. 

The grading scale is from 0 - 20 with 10 being the lowest passing grade.  Above 10 there are the "mentions" for those who do particularly well. 
  • mention  "Assez bien" : average equal or superior to 12 and less than 14 ;
  • mention "Bien" : average equal or superior to 14 and less than 16 ;
  • mention "Très bien" : average equal or superior to 16.
The elder Frenchling passed her French baccalauréat in 2011 in Literature (Bac L) with a "Mention Bien".  She is now in her next to last year at McGill University in Montreal, Canada where she was accepted into the Honours Psychology program.

Now in 2013 it is the younger Frenchling's turn.  Right now she is preparing for the science Bac (Bac S) with a concentration in Math/Physics.  At the same time she is preparing an
Option internationale du baccalauréat which a special mention for foreign and French students who are competent in a second language.   She already sat a few of the exams last year and, to my delight, scored a 15 in written French.  This is my revenge against every French teacher who yelled at me and predicted that my children would never ever be fluent in French if I insisted on speaking English at home.  Boy, am I glad I ignored that and I counsel any of you who might be in that situation right now to do the same.  The idea that a multi-lingual household equals academic failure is an old myth and should not be taken seriously.

This year she will sit the rest of the exams and what a heavy load it is:  History, Geography, Math, Physics, English, Spanish, Japanese, Life and Earth Sciences and what I call "Philo-lite" - this is Philosophy for science students and it does not seem to be anything like what her elder sister had in the Literature program.  I am nonetheless rather grateful that the younger has any classes on this subject at all since Having spent the better part of my life surrounded by engineers and having built a career in IT, I am personally delighted that philosophy continues to be a part of the French curriculum even for the geeks. I have sat through many a meeting rather wishing that the people around me had spent a little more time thinking about free will and a lot less solving equations.

To muddy the waters and add another level of stress the younger Frenchling has had to make some decisions about the future right now.  Universities in North America had application deadlines earlier this year and even the French system has asked about intentions well in advance of actually passing the Bac and getting the results.  So we've had to think hard about things like:  What country, what university, what language, and what programs she should apply to.  The short list came down to 6 universities in France and Canada (and we'll take about why none of the U.S. universities made the cut a little later).  She was accepted at 5 of the 6 universities she applied to and my daughter spent a few weeks after we received the acceptance letters trying to make up her mind.  She took her final decision a few days ago.  What was the deciding factor?  Well, her school recently organized a field trip to a physics research center just outside of Paris and while she was there she asked the physicists she met what they thought.  They said that if she was headed for Canada she couldn't do better than the Université de Montréal (UdeM).  And that was that.

Be aware that this is not yet a done deal.  UdeM made an offer that is contingent on her passing her Science bac and getting good scores in Math and Physics.  But, if all goes well, this fall she will join her sister in Montreal in the Physics Program at Udem.

Now that the decision is made, the questions have begun.  Why Canada?  Or to put it another way why isn't she staying in France or why didn't she  choose to go to the U.S.?  Both were clear possibilities since she is a multi-lingual (French/English/Japanese), dual French/U.S. citizen with good grades, a passion for science, a strong math and science preparation from an international high school seeking a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degree program.  Here are a few of the reasons that she and her sister will most likely be sharing an apartment in Montreal this September.

A Fourth Place:  Both Frenchlings have experience living in three countries:  the U.S., France and Japan.  These places are known and loved but not much adventure there.  French-speaking Canada is a place to discover.  Plus, Montreal is such a beautiful city and has such a unique blend of European and North American cultures.

Lack of Flexibility:  This was mostly a factor with the elder Frenchling as she looked at the possibilities post-Bac in the French university system.  Her dream was to go into forensic psychology.  Alas, a Bac L did not really open many doors in France and she was directed toward a degree in Law instead.  Since that really wasn't what she wanted to do, she looked elsewhere for a system that was more flexible and didn't hold her high school diploma in Literature against her.

Price Tag:  This was THE factor that ruled out the U.S. very early in the college selection process.  Yes, there is student aid and scholarships and loans and universities in the U.S., if they accept a student, do their very best to make it happen.  Still, the idea that we (the parents) would have to empty the savings accounts or see our daughters start out their working lives with tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars of debt just made everyone's stomach hurt.  Full tuition for a non-resident undergraduate student at my alma mater, the University of Washington,  a good but not Ivy League level institution, is a whopping 30,000 USD per year.  This is a global market, ladies and gentlemen, and I'm sorry but the price-quality ratio just ain't there.  I found this so appalling that I actually wrote my senator back in Washington state to ask about it.  I'm sorry to say (and I'm starting to get used to this) my elected representative back in the U.S. didn't even bother to respond to my mail.

Compared to the U.S. university system, France and Canada are amazingly affordable.  A university education in France is nearly free (about 300 Euros a year) and Canada is very reasonable.  And in French-speaking Canada, French citizens are exempt from the international tuition rates and pay the same rates as Canadian citizens according to a convention signed between the two countries.  A year's tuition for a French student at McGill University, an Ivy League level institution ranked in the top 20 universities in the world, is a modest 3,785 Canadian dollars (about 2,800 Euros).

And for the cherry on the cake, a good score on the French bac means that a French student will be given credit for many entry-level university classes.  The elder Frenchling was given an entire year's worth of credits for her bac results and the younger Frenchling will be exempt from (and get credit for) all the entry-level math classes and many of the science ones too.  This mean that both can complete a four-year degree in three years.

Recruitment:  The U.S. system seems to pay no particular attention to U.S. citizen students born or raised abroad who might wish to attend university at an American school.  As far as I can tell they are simply treated as "international students" which means they must pay out-of-state tuition rates and there are no particular incentives being offered to encourage them to come over to their other "home" for an education.  Given the US's thirst for STEM students I found this rather surprising.  Look, these kids don't even have to get a student visa to come to the U.S. because they are already U.S. citizens and most likely already have American passports and speak fluent English (as well as other languages).  My daughter's international school did organize a few meetings with recruiters earlier this year but it wasn't much compared to the vast numbers of American universities ostensibly seeking students from abroad.  The French system didn't perform much better.  Aside from one field trip and a chat promoting the Université Paris-Sud (which also accepted the younger Frenchling by the way) there was not much encouragement to select one French university over another or any attempt to retain those who were thinking about going abroad.

In my experience, Canadian universities do a much better job with students from abroad and both the U.S. and France could do worse then to look at how they do it.  When the elder Frenchling was trying to make up her mind and had questions and concerns, she had an almost instant response from the staff at McGill (and boy did I appreciate their patience because she had LOTS of questions).  UdeM has been much the same.  From recruitment to final acceptance there were many helpful (and bi-lingual) people available to move things along.  The application process was easy (and on-line).  The staff got right back to her with a list of paper documents they wanted.  And above and beyond the administrative details the tone from both McGill and UdeM was warm and welcoming.  It was,"We would be very happy to have you" and now, "We are so glad you accepted."  Since then she has been receiving emails with information about the immigration formalities (the CAQ), campus life  and many other things which have her (and us) feeling very good about her decision and singing:

"Ô Canada ! Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux !
Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix !
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits...."

For a good example of some slick recruiting and for those of you who might be interested in knowing more about UdeM, here is a short video in French about the school oriented toward international students.  The accents are delicious...


Christophe said...

Yes, high education in the US is crazy expensive. That worries me a lot. Hopefully, my boys will want to be adventurous and try a French or Canadian university.
That won't be for a while, though. They're 3 and 5 :-)
And right now not speaking French much. I don't see them very often. They both understand French, but insist on responding in English.
The oldest one just started kindergarten this year.

You say that this is a global market, but rest assured. It's as unaffordable for US citizen as it is for foreign students. Maybe a bit less. That is the next big crisis in the US. Student debt bubble ballooning and getting out of control, young graduates having difficulty finding work after school to get rid of their student loans. And the authorities wonder why they're not more kids pursuing higher education....
I am worried about the future of this country.

So your kids being American weren't even considered out of state? Out of state is more expensive than in state, but still should be less than international.

The best way for French students to get into an American university, is to get into an engineering school that has a exchange program with American universities. Now, these engineering school might be private, but the cost of private engineering school in France was affordable when I went (it was in the order of 3k French Francs a year). My school gave students the opportunity to work a full year in a company in between the 2nd and last year of school (the equivalent of coops I guess in the US), which I did, and also had exchange programs with American universities. Students could then spend their last year abroad, at the price of the French engineering school. So I basically attended a year in a US university for 3k FF. That was 15 years ago.
Prices of private engineering schools must have increased since then, but I am sure they're still much less than the price tag of American universities.

Good luck to your Frenchling. Wow, 15 in French, that's great. I am impressed. I didn't like these French essays and text analysis, and had pretty bad grades, in both written and oral French. Luckily, Math and Physics pulled everything up and I still managed to get a mention.
I am sure she'll do great, and enjoy Canada. Her sister is there, right?

Have a great weekend. Your garden looks great, by the way, without all the work you plan on doing there!

P. Moore said...

Good to hear your daughters are doing well. Many in the US have figured out that the Canadian Universities and cities are good places to send their children to school as well...saves them lots of money and they get a quality education and great experience. As for your daughter, I say..Welcome to Canada!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Christophe, Sounds like you and my spouse would have a lot to talk about. He also went to a French engineering school which allowed him to go off to the University of Washington for a quarter. That's how we met. :-)

My American kids would be considered "non-residents" and so they would pay the same rates as other non-residents, international or otherwise (at least that is what the UW does). This means they get zero benefit from having a US passport. Being French on the other hands confers some very real benefits. Go figure.

And no way, now how are we going into debt for an undergraduate degree in the US when we can do so much better elsewhere.

Yep, the elder Frenchling is at McGill. The girls will be room mates. I bet they are just thrilled. :-)

And thanks for the kind words about the garden. It's a work in progress and the "work" keeps me sane.

@P. Moore, Thank you! We've visited Montreal many times since the elder Frenchling was installed there and I remember many trips to B.C. to see my aunt in my childhood. My daughter just loves her classes at McGill - so different from the French system. Canada IS a really great country and has, I think, an unparalleled welcome. I feel very honored that it wants my girls. :-)

Blaze said...

Here's some information for those French teachers who berated you for raising multi-lingual children (although they likely do not put much faith in what Wikepedia has to say!)

I find it intriguing that your daughters find Canada an "adventure." I'm delighted to hear that because we're often told the rest of the world thinks Canada is boring.

I hope you will share more of their experiences as they unfold. I am having a flashback to my own youth.

My original move to Canada was to Montreal in 1968. My purpose was to learn French. I had British roomates and an anglophone boyfriend went to an English school and had way too much fun, so I didn't achieve my objective. I wonder if it's too late now.

It was during that year that I became Hooked on Canada. I tried returning to US briefly, but I no longer felt I belonged there and did not want to develop a life there, so I soon happily came back to Canada.

I was going to ask what your daughters think of the Quebecois accent but I think you said your daughter attending McGill finds it "sexy." You call it "delicious," so that could mean anything.

I hope we may have an opportunity to meet if you are ever over here visiting them.

Bienvenue au Canada, Victoria's Frenchlings!

Anonymous said...

As Victoria's mother I need to add that Victoria and her husband, the father of their delightful children, have raised two talented kids and we are beyond grateful for their parenting skills. Nicely done guys.

Blaze said...

@Victoria's Mother: "It takes a village to raise a child." (African Proverb).

I also believe it takes strong women in that village to raise strong daughters.

Victoria and her husband surely must have followed in your footsteps in raising bright, compassionate, inquisitive, strong, adventurous and articulate children.

Blaze said...

Oops! I just realized I neglected to give the link to Wikipedia on bilingual children.

If I had been raised bilingual, maybe I would not have had a brain fog moment there.

Here it is.

Tim said...

A couple of random thoughts on US and Canadian education.

1. Most of Canada has both French and English public schools however, as you get further away from francophone speaking areas(and vice versa) they tend to be rarer outside of major population centers. Vancouver has French language public school but not the rest of BC(If I remember correctly). In Quebec for "political" reasons public English language education is restricted to student who have a parent who themselves was educated in English in Canada.

2. Historically public education was divided into Protestant and Catholic education. This is in fact very controversially enshrined in the Canadian constitution. Quebec and Newfoundland(which only became part of Canada in 1949) were able to get Ottawa to amend the constitution to eliminate this distinction. In Quebec the protestant system became the English system and the Catholic system became the French. The actually schools are governed by local school boards like in the US so their is a Montreal English School District and Montreal French School District.
3. Ontario in particular never got rid of this distinction(and some say it requires a Constitutional amendment). Thus in Ottawa for example there are public Ottawa English, Ottawa English Catholic, Ottawa French, and Ottawa French Catholic school boards/districts. Quite a bit of overlap and dupliation. For many years the Ontario Catholic Boards did not receive full public funding. This changed in the early 1980s and remains controversial to this day(Seperation of church and state).
4. Many years ago before most flophousers knew about FATCA and Jim Flaherty, Flaherty was proponent of providing limited public support of other religous schools in Ontario as provincial Ontario politician. He got hurt quite badly politically. Another politician named John Tory wanted to give full funding too religous school he got decimated at the polls. Elizabeth May(someone FATCA followers now know too) was a proponent on the otherhand of changing the constitution and elimination the provisions dealing with Catholic school boards. That was her early claim to fame. Most politicians outside of QC and NL(where the deed has been long done) don't want to touch the issue with a ten foot pole.
5. Due to the public funding of the Catholic boards they do have to abide by provincially set curriculum. This of course becomes in issue in areas such as sex ed where Catholic church teachings become an issue. He who has the gold makes the rules though and the provincial government usually gets its way. Some more "traditional" Catholics don't really like public funding either for this reason.

Tim said...

6. Most provinces follow the traditional US pattern of 12 years of secondary ed. Quebec only has 11 though(for both and English and French boards). In Quebec students can then sit for the SAT and go down south and enter US university early(Somewhat common among Anglos). For the most part the go to one to two years of CEGEP(kind of like community college). After this if they go to Quebec University they only need three years to get a degree(My memory is fading on the finer points of all this). If they go to college in the rest Canada they still go through a full four year program.
7. Ontario used to have though 13 years of Secondary Ed. This last year was called the OAC. It was also total bunk. There nothing that made me more pleased to move from Canada to the US as kid as avoiding OAC(Now you know something about me I have never said publically). OAC coursework was considered important from the standpoint of attending college in Ontario. It did have that much meaning for attending college in the US or rest of Canada. OAC was finally officially eliminated in 2003. However since then there is a phenomenon of students staying for a grade 13 "Victory Lap." The Ontario government though in the last year or two trying to stop this once and for all be refusing provincial funding to local school boards for any Grade 13 courses other than for academic makeup(i.e. students who flunked). Some school boards though are still threatening to continue Grade 13 "Victory Laps" using other resources. It will probably be up to Ontario Universities as to whether they want to recognize this coursework.
8. Canada has no direct federal involvement in secondary or post secondary ed. Generally Canada is represented at G7/G8/G20 education ministerial conferences by the Ontario Education Minister. Canada and particularily Ontario do score very high on the OECD PISA tests.
9. There was a lot Labor unrest in Ontario schools circa the late 1990s in the "Chainsaw" Harris era. Blaze can tell you more about the nitty gritty of what happened. Some of this has returned in the past year. However, it has not effected the Catholic, French and French Catholic districts. There is some concern parents will shift in mass to these public "alternatives" to avoid teacher strikes etc.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Blaze, Canada is absolutely an adventure. I've never heard a French person refer to it as "boring." There are even members of my family here (not the Frenchlings) who have dreamed of Canada for many years.

It is never ever too late to tackle a second or third language. Read some of Kenjo Hakuta's work on second-language learners. Adults have some skills that can make them better language learners than kids.

The Canadian French accent is just lovely. Really. I get such a kick when I go to Quebec and I've had people there tell me they think my accent is pretty nice too. :-)

@Mom, I love you too. And as Blaze said this was a group effort and you have done so much as the "American grandmother." You merit a lot of the credit too. Our Franco-American ladies are pretty fine and just as I am so proud to be your daughter, I am so proud and pleased have such wonderful children.

@Tim, That is very interesting. I had wondered how they managed education in Quebec with the two languages. Lot of French Canadians going to school here in France. I think it's wonderful to have such exchanges - brain circulation is good for everyone. I firmly believe it.

Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly, about 20 % of McGill's population is American, driven by cost/quality considerations. Do not know what percentage at McGill and UdeM are from France but is likely significant, driven by the same considerations as you mention in your post. One of the ironies of the Quebec-France deal is that French students have a better deal than students from elsewhere in Canada, who have to pay out of province fees. And Quebec fees are the lowest by far in Canada - at UofT where are kids are, tuition is about twice what one pays at McGill (but Quebec universities are complaining about limited funding ...).
Friends of ours, a Canadian and French couple living in France have had both their kids at McGill and were very happy with their experience, both educational and otherwise.

You should send this post to the Canadian Embassy and the Délégation générale du Québec as they would love this.

Brought tears to my eyes to hear such praise :)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Andrew, That's right you have a son at University of Toronto (I've been reading your book :-). I didn't know that the French students pay lower tuition than Canadians from other parts of Canada.

Your comment sent me looking for some numbers. According to this article
in 2010 there were 1093 Quebecois studying in France and 8798 French studying in Quebec. I wonder why it is so low given all the advantages. Something to look into....

I will think about sending the post off to the people you mentioned. Always important to catch people doing things right, right?

Anonymous said...

the UdeM campus is a 15-20 minute walk from my apartment. It is mostly in the Cote-des-Neiges area, one of the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in Canada,
with a lot of affordable housing
and well served by the transit system. Your daughter should love her time at the UdeM

bubblebustin said...

Congratulations all around, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa and especially Frenchlings, older and younger!
Fareed Zacharia did a piece on his GPS show last Sunday on the state of US universities and his concern about their admissions moving further away from being merit based:
"State universities--once the highways of advancement for the middle class--have been utterly transformed under the pressure of rising costs and falling government support. A new book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, shows how some state schools have established a "party pathway," admitting more and more rich out-of-state kids who can afford hefty tuition bills but are middling students."
Others argue universities have the right to run themselves like a business:
"Implicit in Zakaria's argument is the belief that state universities have responsibilities which set it apart from other private institutions-- namely an obligation to "look out" for applicants from within its own state, even if that means making less money and winning fewer accolades in athletics. (His piece talks about concessions made for richer out-of-state kids, and stellar athletes with lackluster grades.)"
You would think that universities would be concerned about what kind of reputation they might end up with should they cater to those students who make less than stellar graduates-for the sake of profit.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@anonymous, Thank you for the info about the neighborhood. Sounds like just her style especially if they have Asian delis where she can buy her favorite Japanese candy.

@bubblebustin, Darn you! Now I have another book that I just HAVE to read. Off to Amazon I go with my Carte Bleue. :-) Good article. Thanks.

bubblebustin said...

Thanks to Amazon, Amex can change their slogan to "Don't leave home" ;-)

Anonymous said...

your older daughter is the ideal person to check out the area for her sister.
She should take the 165 bus north from the Guy-Concordia metro to the Cote-des-Neiges plaza. She wiil find 2 oriental supermarkets
Marche Kim Phat and Marche Fu Tai, also the bibliotheque interculterelle at 6767 Cote-des-Neiges.

Anonymous said...

Victoria you might be interested in the politics of the French language in Quebec, amongst Francophones.

There are those who use more France-French, and those in Quebec who use 'joual' or other dialects:

I had a friend who was part francophone Quebecois from one parent, and an Anglo from the other. One parent's French was very proper, from a Quebec convent school, and the friend's own education was conducted entirely in French, from a French international school abroad - and so was more formal in register as well. He was trilingual, and fully fluent in French, English and another non-European language, with smatterings of others. When he briefly moved to Montreal, they made fun of his accent and vocabulary as being TOO proper, too formal, too 'French'- (i.e. from France). I don't think it was merely a question of using an improper 'register'.

As a consequence, he was quite bitter about his reception in Quebec as a fellow native French speaker.


Victoria FERAUGE said...

@anonymous, And they found an apartment! My daughter and her roommate found something about 20 minutes from McGill. It was very interesting managing the application between Canada and Frence. The landlord wouldn't take a guarantor from France so my mother in Seattle had to sign.

@badger, Fascinating. Thanks for the links. Language is such a source of bitter contention. Tony Judt (one of my favorites) and Denis Lacorne edited a very good book called Language, Nation and State: a series of essays about language wars. Lot of stuff in there about France I didn't know. I even went back and talked to my mother-in-law about it. She's 80 and confirmed that in her childhood France was multi-lingual. She recalls peole who spoke Gascon and other languages in addition to standard French. She's from the Limousin.

Quebec, the US, Australia and all the settler colonies are another ball of wax. All languages other than the native ones are imports. Begs the question what is "true" English, French, Spanish, Portuguese....