Red EFE: “Multilingualism constitutes a real argument for the attractiveness of the network”

French people abroad: What is the situation of the French educational network abroad at the beginning of 2024?

Matthieu Peyraud: The network now has 392,000 students, its highest level to date and the result of continuous growth in recent years. If this growth slowed in 2023 (1.2%), it is due in particular to the geopolitical context of conflicts affecting some of our schools. For example, we have four locations in Israel, one in Jerusalem and one in Ramallah (West Bank). As the work of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs is to protect the network, I would like to point out that we are committed, together with the AEFE, to guaranteeing educational continuity even in times of crisis. Therefore, these establishments have not closed. Nor in the Sahel is the situation conducive to the development of our institutions in some countries, particularly in Niger, where we no longer have an embassy. But teaching continues: for the moment, it is delivered remotely.

Other less visible crises also influence our activity: our establishment in Tehran could have disappeared under pressure from the Iranian authorities. However, it continues to operate although its numbers have decreased considerably, going from 396 to 82 students today. Local authorities have decided to strictly enforce the ban on Iranian and binational (including Franco-Iranian) students from enrolling in a foreign international school, without the possibility of obtaining an exemption.

Does the global macroeconomic context also work against you?

In fact, widespread inflation and the sharp increase in energy prices have led to an increase in prices, in particular tuition fees. However, we are doing everything we can to ensure that this increase does not fall solely on families. Furthermore, the number of expatriations has not returned to pre-Covid levels and this is felt in our schools. But it’s not all bad news: while we lost many students in Asia during the pandemic, the numbers are rising again with an additional 1,100 students in our schools at the start of the 2023 school year.

How does the Quai d’Orsay intend to pursue, in this context, the Cap 2030 objective of reaching 700,000 students online?

Of course, achieving this goal would be easier if the context improved. It is still a good sign to note that, despite the headwinds, the network saw slight growth at the start of the school year. During consultations with network actors in 2023 by the Quai d’Orsay, ways to accelerate progress were also identified. For example, we decided to focus on target countries (see the interview with Claudia Scherer-Effosse) where the network can thrive.

We must also strengthen our attractiveness, which includes teacher training in particular. This is the role of the 16 regional training institutes that are fully operational and open to teaching staff.

Might establishment approval need to evolve as part of achieving the CAP 2030 target?

It is not about facilitating approval: it must be rigorous and guarantee the parents of students that the education offered by our establishments is the same as what their children would receive in the national territory. On the other hand, we want to make the certification system more understandable so that the educational community can understand it better. Our embassies are also carrying out important work, in conjunction with the Ministry of National Education, to identify establishments that offer courses in French and then prepare them for the approval system.

What job will you do in 2024 to continue the development of the network?

We have two priority projects. First of all, multilingualism, which constitutes a real argument in favor of the attractiveness of the network. At French institutes abroad, students must master at least French, English and the country’s language by the end of their studies. This is what differentiates us from the competition. Today, for example, 150,000 students in the network benefit from education in Arabic.

To develop the network, we must also support establishments in their real estate policy through three aspects: maintenance of the park, renovation of currently deteriorated premises and expansion to accommodate new students. All of this is carried out with true rigor in public procurement. Issues of security, adaptation to sustainable development but also the well-being of students are also priorities in these agreements. The planning work for this work is carried out for establishments under direct management, while for partner or authorized establishments, our role is to grant, when the conditions are met, the State guarantee on their real estate loans.

How do you collaborate with the Ministry of National Education so that the network does not suffer from the shortage of teachers that exists in France?

We receive many requests for staff in France, but there are two elements that limit the number of departures. Firstly, the shortage of personnel in France makes it difficult for National Education to grant the assignment of teachers it needs for centers located in the national territory. So, some areas where the network is present are less attractive than others: either because the country is in crisis or because the cost of living is particularly high in those countries.

To overcome these problems, we wish to improve our coordination with the human resources department of National Education so that the assignment calendars between France and the network abroad are better articulated and defined in the same deadlines. A task force is working on it today. Finally, we wish to better promote moving abroad in a teaching career, knowing that this foreign assignment is limited to six years. The goal is for these years spent online to be beneficial both for their careers and for National Education.

The French International Baccalaureate (BFI) will see its first starters graduate this year. To what extent do international sections make the network more attractive?

This is an essential issue and that is why the pace of opening international sections continues to grow: today we have 203 international sections and 101 courses leading to the BFI. The latter must be highlighted in the Parcoursup system at the end of the school year. These sections respond to the expectations of parents who intend to give their children a multilingual education and the possibility of studying wherever they wish.

How are French institutions abroad addressing the issue of Francophonie on the eve of the Summit to be held in October 2024?

French institutes abroad are one of the best instruments of the Francophonie and will be the sounding board for the Villers-Cotterêts (Aisne) summit. “Resonance” is precisely the name we have given to a call for projects within the framework of which a certain number of embassies and educational centers presented projects. The institutions of the Mediterranean countries, for example, presented one titled “The sea, dialogue of Mediterranean youth.”

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