There are many similarities and differences between the U.S. and French education systems. After viewing the film, The Class, which is also known by its original French title as, Entre les murs, which literally translates to "Between the walls", I was reminded about the constant struggle of learning in the classroom during those terrible middle-school days. The film is about the experiences of a French middle-school teacher, illuminating his efforts with a select few "problem children" who cause trouble in his classroom.
A majority of the students in the Femi Memorial Outreach after-school program are of middle-school age, and so the first similarity I noted was that the classroom in France is the same as it is in the U.S. Both countries have a teacher instructing a class size of about twenty-five students with a primary focus on mathematics, science, writing, and grammar. If you walked into a French classroom, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference other than the language barrier. The students are generally the same as well, with well-behaved and not-so-well-behaved students. It happens everywhere. Other than that, school life is very different in France than it is in America. The school day is much longer in France than it is in the U.S. School usually begins at 8am and ends at 6pm, while in the U.S. it begins around the same time but ends earlier. The French have longer lunch periods, which are around two hours, because they have a longer school day. They also start school at the age of two, while in the U.S. it is typically around the age of five or six. The structure in France is a bit confusing, with the numbers of the grades starting at the top and going down, so it begins with Ecole maternelle: 3-6 years old; then Ecole primaire: 6-11 years old; College: 11-15 years old; Lycee: 15-18 years old; and lastly, Universite. To move onto university, the French have to pass the Baccalaureat exam, which is equivalent to the SAT or ACT in the U.S. The French education system is national, and it may seem superior to the American system, but they don't have as much funding, so they don't offer as many extracurricular activities as the U.S. does.
It is easy to see that many differences exist between the two countries, and with time, it will become clearer which education system is more successful. I recommend watching the film, The Class, because it portrays the typical French middle school classroom so it will give you a better idea of what it is like in France. It might also remind you of your awkward days in middle school, as it did for me!
Loyola University Chicago