French Youth Asked to Answer World's Problems

In France, the philosophy test traditionally kicks off the Baccalaureat, the week-long exam that validates French youth's secondary studies.

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On Thursday morning, French youth who took the test were asked “Is equality a threat to liberty?”, “Can one be right despite the facts?” or even “Is art any less necessary than science?”

In the past, students have had to answer such general questions as “Who am I?” “Why do we want to be free?” or “Do we really need a government?”. But the questions are often quite topical.

One of this year’s subjects is particularly interesting in the scope of international finance. Students who chose the social studies branch of the exam were given an opportunity to comment on a text from Seneca the Younger.

In this text, the Roman stoic philosopher is questioning the real interest of helping someone he cannot receive anything in return from. A question that, some analysts have said, Greek bond holders are probably sharing at the moment.

French teens are encouraged to think outside the box in this mandatory class and are asked to tackle political, social and philosophical questions. This often intertwines with economic issues as well.

They have, in the past, been asked “What is work worth?” (2007), “Is there a right to work?” (1999), “Is defending one’s rights the same as defending one’s interests?” (2002) or “To give in order to receive, is that the foundation of all exchanges?” (2001).

The Baccalaureat is a corner stone in the French education system. French students are being prepared to take it their entire education long. The success, or failure, to pass it will determine which college education one will possibly apply to. However, with a success rate that hasn’t been lower than 78.6 percent in 10 years, even peaking at 86.2 percent in 2009, the relevancy of the exam is questioned every year.

France is not spared youth unemployment problems, as 17 percent of French people under 29 are unemployed, according to the national statistics institute, a rate much higher than that of the entire active population (9.3 percent).

This year, 628,708 high-school students will be taking the test, also joined by 25,840 candidates who are not currently students. The results will be released on July 5.