English teaching reform to boost international trade

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has announced plans to expand the teaching of English in secondary schools and higher education, including internationally recognised qualifications, as part of France’s strategy to boost international trade and exports.

Speaking to students at EDHEC Business School in Lille, northern France, on 23 February, Philippe said it was a government priority to close the trade gap which had been in deficit for 14 years, and in 2017 registered €63 billion (US$77 billion) – its highest since 2012.

The deficit had many causes, he said – lack of competitivity, investment, skills, industrial strategy, vision, support – to which he would add cultural and psychological reasons. “Exporting is a profession, a state of mind, a profession that can be learnt, and therefore that can be taught,” he said.

As well as investment, tax and employment reforms aimed at increasing competitivity and closing the trade gap, Philippe said an important part of the government’s strategy was to develop English language teaching for lycée (upper secondary school) and university students.

Philippe, 47, said he supposed teaching English had “changed a bit since I was a teenager. Even if I suspect that there are still some cassettes lying around with which you repeat sentences in a loop”.

He said the government wanted to “accelerate the change in teaching English. Because a quarter of jobs are linked to export; because even those not working in export still need English in their lives; because English is the ‘first language’ of globalisation and to speak it well is to be in control of one’s future. That is why we shall introduce from the lycée a system of certification for foreign languages, consistent with international standards.

“To be clear, eventually all students at the end of lycée, and at the latest the end of their licence [bachelor equivalent], will have taken a test such as Cambridge IELTS, financed by the state, which will give them an internationally recognised level of competence,” said Philippe.

The qualifications would continue throughout higher education, he said. “We will first introduce them in [professionally oriented] courses with an international dimension, for about 63,000 students.”

Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, and Frédérique Vidal, higher education, research and innovation minister, would present a report in the summer detailing how the new system would be introduced within three years, said Philippe.