• Mariella R

School in France

I've lived most of my life here in Toronto, but lived in Paris for two years and did a school exchange for three months last year. My dad is a professor so he takes a year off every four or five years or so. My parents decided to take those years to Paris so that my dad could do some research at a university there and also so that me and my sister could live in a completely different city than Toronto. Now that I have lived in France, I can say that everyday life is totally different than here. One thing that I noticed in particular is the school system.

My sister and me at the airport after returning home from France in 2013

In Canada, you progress from elementary to middle school to high school. In France, you start kindergarten when you are three years old. Children stay in kindergarten for three years, not two years like here. After kindergarten, they go to primary school. Children start primary school in first grade, called 'primaire', and stay until fifth grade, called 'cours moyen deux'. In France, children can be held back a school year even when they are in primary school. When I was in France in fourth grade, I was nine but there was a boy who was 12 in my class because he had missed so many years. In France, they call middle school 'collège'. The 'collège' lasts three years. It starts in sixth grade and finishes in ninth. The second time I lived in Paris, I was in eighth grade, or "quatrième." To go to high school, or “lycée,” middle school students have to pass a major exam in all ninth grade subjects. High school is not compulsory in France, if you do not want to continue going to school, you don't need to, and students who do not pass the exam, called the brevet, cannot go to high school. High school lasts three years, from tenth to the twelfth grades. When high school students are in grades eleven and twelve, they take a major exam called the baccalaureate, or the 'bac' that determines where they go after high school.

My elementary school in Paris

School in France is very difficult. For children in primary school, lessons start at eight in the morning and end at 4 p.m. For middle and high school students, school starts at eight o'clock and can end at 5.30 p.m. or even 6 p.m. When I was in eighth grade, I would leave my apartment at 7am and come back sometimes at 6.30pm—my days were longer than those of working adults! And after all that, I had two or three hours of homework every night. In high school, there are even lessons on Saturdays. But there are advantages too. In primary, there are no lessons on Wednesdays, and in middle school there are only lessons in the mornings. Every six weeks, we would have two weeks of vacation. This means that there are holidays in October, December, February and April without counting the summer holidays, which start in mid-June.

My middle school in Paris

The teachers are much stricter in France than in Canada. If someone speaks during a lesson, even a word, they get detention. Detention, or “colle,” lasts three hours on a Saturday morning. If you don't do our homework, you get detention. If you're not writing with a fountain pen, or if you're not writing in cursive, you get detention. If a teacher sees a cell phone, they can take it and keep it for a whole week. When someone enters the classroom, such as a teacher or the principal, all students stand up until the teacher tells them to sit down.


Despite the severity of the French school system, I loved my time there and made countless memories and valuable friendships. After all, it's my time in France that led me to start Cognates!

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