A study in 2006 found that French doctors had prescribed 120 million mood-altering drugs such as anti-depressants, tranquillisers and sleeping tablets. A quarter of the French population, 15 million people, had taken them in the previous year. Nearly a quarter of all adolescents had been prescribed them. Two of my daughter’s school friends were taking anti-depressants for stress. When asked to rate their happiness level on a scale of 1-10, French people are less happy than most other Europeans. A very well thought out article in the Financial Times asked, ‘Is it France, or being French that leads to unhappiness?’  Even when French people leave France they are still pessimistic about life. So the article concluded that they were brought up to be unhappy, which points to the education system. We were surprised at the way French teachers mark children’s work. They start with 20 points and a point is removed for every fault. Our daughter entered the school system at the age of 14. It was disheartening for her to get 0/20 for pieces of work where she had really tried hard and to have no recognition for the things she got right. Especially galling was when she didn’t know if a word was masculine or feminine and so adjectives didn’t agree correctly and sometimes the verb too. Because of one mistake she would have 3 marks deducted. We have heard of people who have never had anyone say, ‘Well done’, to them. There is rigidity in the educational system too. She was struggling with some Maths problems. Her brother showed her a method of doing the calculation and she handed in the work with the correct answers. The teacher didn’t give her any marks because she had not followed the method being taught. The method she had used was one they would learn the next year! The concept of being marked and judged against others doesn’t stop at the school gate. I decided to enter the village ‘best kept garden’ competition. My garden is very small, so it was not too onerous. The judging took place and I was invited to a gathering of all the entrants for the presentation of the prizes. I counted about 20 people and 15 identical poinsettias which were obviously the prizes. The mayor did his duty by announcing the winner, who received a poinsettia, a kiss and an envelope. The second prize winner was called forward and received a potted flower, but no envelope. After the third prize everyone was called according to their position in the competition. My name was called last as I had come 15thout of 15. I did not mind at all, as I got the same prize, as all the others, got to drink a glass of champagne and chat to people from the village. Even my certificate says 15th/15. Does this encourage people to take part? Would people feel awful if 150 people took part and someone got a certificate saying their garden was judged the worst of all? This need to grade people, could be seen as discouraging and literally judgemental. Others might say that it fosters competition and a striving for excellence. The entry into medical school is also very punctilious. All the students take an exam at the end of their first year. Those who get above a certain mark are allowed to be doctors, those that get the next tranche of marks can become dentists. There must always be a doubt that your dentist, however good he/she may be, was someone who failed to become a doctor or that your midwife has failed to become a dentist.


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