Les étudiants défavorisés en prépa à Henri IV : vu d’ Angleterre

Reportage du Guardian sur l’intégration de 30 élèves de milieux modestes ou défavorisés en classe préparatoire à Henri IV.

Le reportage aborde l’intégration de 30 élèves (22 filles, 8 garçons) en classe préparatoire à Henri IV. Particularité de ces élèves ? Tous sont boursiers et proviennent de milieux dits défavorisés ou modestes.

They had been described as pioneers, a select few handpicked from 170 hopefuls to take part in a historic experiment to inject a “social mix” into France’s elitist higher education system. They were, as one student put it, “of all colours” and from all over France. The only things they had in common were academic brilliance and the distinction of being boursiers (grant students). This meant, we were told several times, they were from what were euphemistically described as “disadvantaged” or “modest” backgrounds that would normally exclude them from dreaming of entering such an august institution.

Students who at 18 pass their baccalauréat – the equivalent of A-levels – with above-average marks are encouraged to forget university and take two-year preparatory courses for the grandes écoles, the stepping stones to the country’s highest economic, artistic, political and social echelons.

Selon l’article, le lycée Henri IV est passé de près d’un tiers d’étudiants de prépa venant de milieux défavorisés il y a 50 ans à 9 % dans les années 1990. La création de cette classe prépa “expérimentale” fut décidée il y a un an.

Amid criticisms of dumbing down and political correctness – half of the new students are from the notorious Paris banlieues – an important caveat almost went unnoticed.Despite being selected for exceptional academic achievements, Henri IV’s 30 new students are being taught separately from its regular intake. Only if and when they prove themselves worthy will they be permitted to join the real prépa classes. In most cases this will mean an extra year’s study. As one education specialist put it: “Henri IV is not a charity. It wouldn’t want this experiment interfering with its success rate.”

Although all French schools are supposed to follow the same curriculum, the best lycées hothouse their pupils by working a trimester ahead, giving them the edge in the prépa selection process. It was repeated several times during the backslapping welcoming ceremony that being from “disadvantaged” families meant these youngsters lacked the cultural sophistication expected of the average lycéen. In short, they needed a good polish. To this end, the Louvre, the Paris Opera and the Comédie-Française theatre have agreed to offer an extra-curricular arts programme.

Advocating egalité while highlighting the new students’ “cultural” deficiencies and “disadvantaged” backgrounds raised some hackles among the students. “They’re making it sound like we’re all dirt poor, live amid rioting and have never even heard of prépa courses before, which just isn’t true,” said one. But Joffrey Collignon, 18, the son of a railway worker from Fontainebleau, near Paris, was unfazed. “We’re in the middle of some political and media hype and we’re not all poor, but it’s true we’re from a different social and cultural milieu to those who have impressive libraries at home and think nothing of flying to New York for the weekend.


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