As a responsible parent, we all strive to give our children the best start in life we possibly can. I think sometimes though we tend to focus too much on certain aspects of the process without stepping back and considering the wider picture.
It seems that Education is the number one concern of parents with children considering moving to France (or any other country for that matter). On many expat forums there are countless discussions about the problems with education in France and it’s easy to get bogged down with all the intricacies and worry we’re depriving our children in some way. I’m just as guilty as the next person and actively contribute to these discussions as I do find it fascinating, especially as I’ve schooled my children in both the UK and France. Yes of course the schooling of our children is a primary concern and we all want what’s best for them, but education is only one part of the equation – an important part it’s true, but not the only part.
It would be unwise (perhaps) to take your children to a country with a very poor standard of education, but this is France we’re talking about, not a third world country. There are many criticisms that can be made of education methods here, but there are plenty of successful people out there who have gone through the system and managed to succeed either despite or because of it.
I’m not saying we should ignore it – I think it’s important to be aware of some of the potential failings with the system as we can use the knowledge to ensure we “fill in the gaps” with our children if we think it’s necessary. However, once we’ve accepted that going through the French education system is not going to permanently damage our children, we can consider the other elements that form part of providing the best environment and opportunities to help them become rounded individuals.
One of our main reasons for chosing to move to France was we felt we would have more time to spend with our children. We were working all hours in the UK and never had any spare time. We wanted a slower pace of life so we had more opportunity to enjoy life together as a family. I’m not sure we’ve fully achieved a slower pace of life, as we seem to be just as busy as we were in the UK, but despite this, we do spend more time with our children and they are actively involved in what we do.
We were unhappy with the level of crime, violence and drugs in the UK and considered rural France to be a safer place to bring up our children and that has certainly proved to be the case. Here they have the opportunity to grow and flourish in a safer environment, where pollution, crime and drug rates are lower and they have more freedom to explore than we could allow them in the UK.
I may not be a big fan of the education system but I do love the French culture generally and especially their family values. We go out much more as a family and children are welcome and encouraged in restaurants, social functions etc, which is often not the case in the UK.
The facilities for activities may not be as sophisticated as in the UK, for instance there aren’t as many leisure centres, play parks and all the different organised activities like tumble tots etc, but there are lots of sporting activities and places to visit with your children like leisure lakes and parks, skiing in the winter, canoeing and rafting in the summer. It’s all there, you just have to make more of an effort to find it.
By this I mean things they learn outside of school like nature that our children have more exposure to here than they did in the UK. Our children are growing up in a very rural area where everyone grows their own. They spend a lot of time outside seeing nature happen, which is a wonderful way of learning about the world around them. They see their dad cutting down trees and chopping them up for our fuel, they see us renovating our house, they’ve seen us start businesses from scratch and the highs and lows that entails. We involve them in everything and they learn such a lot about life outside of the classroom which will be of enormous help to them when they are adults.
Let’s not forget to mention the benefits gained from being bilingual too – a gift that provides a multitude of advantages throughout life. I put this under informal education because it’s not something that we formally sit down and teach them. It’s not like learning a second language when you live in your country of birth. Our children have absorbed and learnt French as they did English and in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if we still lived in the UK. According to recent research, bilinguals are better at retaining their mental abilities into old age than monolinguals. So by providing the opportunity for your child to become bilingual, not only will you be improving their job prospects, but you may be helping to prevent them going senile too!
What I’m really saying is we should try to take a more rounded view of what is most beneficial for our children. There is so much more to life than just education and France has such a lot to offer.
When you find yourself stressing about whether your child is at a disadvantage educationally, take a step back and look at the whole picture. Education is only one element contributing towards facilitating your child to grow into a balanced, rounded individual. The chances are, when you weigh it all up the negetives are far outweighed by the positive benefits of life experiences your children are gaining by living abroad.