Sudden turnaround for government. Three years after it was suppressed by the baccalaureate reform, math has returned to the common core of the first grade in high school. A modest return this year, in the form of an option of 1h30… which could become mandatory from the start of the next school year. This patch responds to a startled observation: since the reform removed them from the common core to make it a specialty, math is no longer popular: 41% of seniors are off this subject, while previously only 10% were using the calculator and had left the square.
A hemorrhage that sparked controversy during the presidential campaign. Scientific associations, educational experts, personalities such as the mathematician and former LREM MP Cédric Villani and big bosses (thirty of them, from Orange to Michelin, L’Oréal, Axa, Blablacar, have Challenges on 31 March) sounded the alarm: France needs ‘mathematicians’ in its factories and start-ups to maintain its competitiveness and secure its future. Under pressure, President Macron forced his former education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, to correct his copy and now insists there is a need to “strengthen” high school math.
However, this psychodrama had the merit of shedding light on the extent of the allergy to mathematics in Descartes and Poincaré’s homeland. A tool to select elites and traumatize the masses, this flagship discipline is both a subject of national pride and shame. On the one hand, the tricolor school of mathematics can be proud of winning 13 Fields medals (one of which was awarded again this summer to Hugo Duminil-Copin), a sort of Nobel Prize in mathematics, just behind the United States (14), a record that ranks it as the first country in the world in terms of its population. On the other hand, our results are falling in the international assessments that have been testing the level of students in this discipline since 1995 (see graphs). Young French have become suckers, last in 58 countries’ CM1 tests, penultimate of 39 in fourth grade (Timss 2019), mediocre 25th out of 79 in second (Pisa 2018).