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Philippe Aghion and Emmanuel Combe: “The future of children from disadvantaged backgrounds is also at stake outside school time”


HAS As a new five-year term begins, a recurrent and structuring challenge for the future of our country is that of education. It is clear that he did not have the place he deserved during the election campaign. In particular, political decision-makers must propose innovative and effective solutions to resolve the nagging question of inequalities in educational success. A few clues allow us to take stock of the problem.

First of all, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are five times more likely than those from privileged backgrounds to fail to reach the minimum level in reading. Next, the 10% of pupils from the richest families have a written level that is three school years ahead of the 10% of the poorest pupils.. Finally, 20% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who obtain good results do not plan to pursue higher education, compared to only 7% among good students from privileged backgrounds. In short, in terms of educational inequalities, we are, with Israel and Luxembourg, the champions among the industrialized countries.

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Faced with this unequal schooling, the main political response has been, so far, to commit additional resources to schools in priority education zones. This lever has its uses, but it does not directly deal with the problem at the root and in all its magnitude: the future of children from underprivileged backgrounds is also at stake outside of school time, within the environment in which they evolve. This ranges from the conditions in which they can do – or not do – their homework to access to culture, including their extracurricular activities.

A first lever is that of boarding schools of excellence, which are aimed at students expressing the wish to change their living environment in order to study better and give themselves every chance of succeeding. This initiative, born in 2009, was relaunched recently, and 300 establishments, able to accommodate at least 30,000 students, have been certified.

Success environment

But boarding schools of excellence target middle and high school students and are not aimed at children from an early age, for very obvious reasons: it is hard to see parents agreeing to let very young children go to boarding school. Moreover, boarding schools of excellence, if they grow in strength, will be limited by capacity constraints. Therefore, an interesting avenue would consist in developing, in addition to boarding schools of excellence, day schools of excellence for the youngest underprivileged.

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