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Education: is there a future for ancient languages?



A “European defense of ancient languages” : here iswhat the French Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer called for, on November 16, during a conference in Paris alongside his Greek, Cypriot and Italian counterparts. In particular, international exchanges of students and teachers. And the desire to promote research in the field.

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On this occasion, the Minister announced new measures in favor of Latin and Greek. At the start of the next school year, “Mare Nostrum” sections should be created in middle and high school, with one hour per week, making it possible to build bridges between an ancient language and “One or more modern foreign or regional languages”. Likewise, in the future, the option languages ​​and cultures of Antiquity will be open to high school students in the technological path.

A containment effect on the workforce

Jean-Michel Blanquer uses the word defense on purpose, in reaction to wokism, a current of thought that came from the United States and which, in its eyes, in an anachronistic way, would like to break with the ancient heritage on the pretext that these civilizations were founded on racism and slavery.

But ancient languages ​​did not wait for this controversy to experience a decline, further accelerated by the pandemic. “Because of the confinement, my students were not able to go into the classes to present to the youngest the contributions of ancient languages”, deplores Augustin d’Humières, professor of Latin and Greek in a high school in Meaux (Seine-et-Marne) which welcomes many young people from working-class backgrounds. It details: “They help to overcome the gaps in French, to familiarize oneself with scientific culture, to acquire a general culture and valuable codes when entering higher education. Result: in 2020, thes workforce has halved. “

In 2021, this charismatic teacher has finally regained numbers similar to those of two years ago. But what about elsewhere? Too early to tell, according to the ministry. In any case, the start of the 2020 school year has indeed been marked by a sharp decline. In college, there were 376,000 Latinists, against 414,000 a year earlier. Same trend for ancient Greek: introduced in third grade, it was studied by 12,000 students, against 17,000 in 2019 …

0.1% of final year students chose Latin as a specialty

Unsurprisingly, there is always a great loss between college and high school. However, with a novelty that could have changed the situation: in addition to the Latin or Greek option, which already existed, high school students have the possibility of choosing, from the first, a specialty course entitled “languages ​​and cultures of the Antiquity ”(LCA).

→ READ. Latin and Greek are getting younger

It relies, assures Augustin d’Humières, on “A very nice program that mixes language, literature, philosophy and history”. But this “spec” competes with the other twelve. In 2020, only 0.3% of first year students had chosen LCA Latin, 0.1% LCA Greek (against 63.8% math…). Their seniors in terminal, required to keep only two specialties out of three, were only 0.1% to do Latin and even less Greek.

When the bac reform came into effect in 2019, LCA education was offered in 22% of general high schools. “But while retaining this specialty in their training offer, some principals, seeing the number of candidates close to zero, have not opened a group”, observes Bruno Bobkiewicz, general secretary of SNPDEN, the main union for management staff. Until, according to him, ask for term “The question of the survival of this specialty”.

The old language option would then remain in high school, the numbers of which also eroded in 2020 (from 62,000 to 53,000 students for Latin, from 15,000 to 13,000 for Greek compared to 2019). A loss of attractiveness which can be explained in particular by the adoption of new rules.

“Gone are the days when we only counted points above 10/20, decrypts Bruno Bobkiewicz. The candidate for the bac runs the risk of seeing his general average drop. Fairly low risk, moreover, as the rating, in the options, is benevolent… to put it mildly. ” From now on, in any case, the old language option enters the continuous assessment, with a coefficient of 2 in first, then 2 in final (on a total basis of 104).

66 candidates admitted out of 134 vacancies

“We are facing a vicious cycle, deplores Robert Delord, president of the association Arrête ton char, which promotes the languages ​​and civilizations of Antiquity. For lack of students in college, the numbers are shrinking in high school and even more in higher education. And there are fewer and fewer candidates for the Classics Capes ” he laments(66 candidates admitted for 134 positions to be filled in 2021).

Side teachers of classical letters, this time, the picture is hardly favorable. Their number fell from 8,700 to 8,100 between 2017 and 2020. The ministry argues that “Teachers from other disciplines can apply for additional certification to teach ancient languages ​​in addition”. But he also knows that it will be necessary to pay more attention to the teaching conditions of Latin and Greek in high school, where classes are often scheduled in the evening, or even Wednesday afternoon or Saturday morning. In each academy, a commission will look into the issue, he says.

“We will also see how to promote on Parcoursup the fact of having studied ancient languages ​​in high school”, one announces Rue de Grenelle. While maintaining “Try to preserve as much as possible the teaching offer of this discipline”.

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