Educational planners reflect on the IIEP Study Visits in France

20 April 2023


IIEP Study Visit in 2019 in Lyon, France.

For more than half a century, the IIEP Study Visit was a unique opportunity for educational planners from across the globe to get an inside look at the French education system.

Organized with the support of the French National Commission for UNESCO, the Study Visits were part of IIEP’s former Advanced Training Programme (ATP), where educational planners from across the globe would come to Paris for part of their studies.

Every year, the trainees would spend one week visiting local education systems in France. Over the years, all the French educational academies were covered, with visits occurring in every corner of the country.

As IIEP marks six decades in 2023, former IIEP trainees shared their memories and explained – through a survey – how these Study Visits enriched their studies and their careers and brought an international perspective to their work as educational planners.

Exploring different themes of the French system

Every year, the Study Visit would address a different theme, such as the quality of education, how the system caters to the diverse needs of all learners, including the disabled, or vocational education and the integration of youth into the labour market.

For each visit, local and regional education authorities, teachers, administrators, managers, inspectors, and other actors, shared all their knowledge on various educational policies and realities with the group.

The Study Visits would also entail a lot of logistical preparations, and each of the local academies across France, and even local elected officials, would open their schools, classrooms, and canteens to the planners training at IIEP. 

Overall, the Study Visits were highly impactful, and 100% of the survey respondents (58 IIEP alumni) said they helped them to acquire relevant skills and competencies, and over 80% agreed that it gave them a deeper understanding of the key characteristics of an education system. 

The participants were also able to gain an appreciation of some of the features of the French education system.

“The first take-away was decentralisation of education and how it worked in the French context,” said Mary Rose Warue Kariuki, from Kenya, about her visit in 1992. “Another one was seeing multi-grade learning in reality, and not reading about it in documents.”

Participant Samuel Dargbeh, from Liberia, saw value in the way that the French education system adapts to students with different needs during his 2017 visit to Calais and Lille in France.

“The French education system is tailored to meet the specific needs of students at various levels in every region,” Dargbeh said. “The application of high educational standards and clearly defined policies is essential in providing quality and equal opportunities for all students.”

Educational planners were exposed to new ways of thinking

Bénéwendé Bonaventure Segueda, from Burkina Faso, said his 2014 Study Visit to several French cities helped him understand how the French school system worked to reduce disparities. “The issue of equal access to education and disparities in school learning is ultimately a universal reality,” said Segueda. “Although it manifests differently from one country to another or from one continent to another.”

Starting in 2013, the Study Visit also included a one-day visit to the education system of a neighboring country – such as Germany or Switzerland.  For example, Sayed Abdullah Mossavi, who now lives in France, reflected on a 2019 visit to an informal school in Geneva, where students learn by doing.

“This policy will help students find their desired jobs, help the education system prevent dropout rates, and finally, there will be skilled labor available in the market,” Mossavi said. “We should always look for alternatives and think about doing things differently.”

Keodiretse Alfred Phelefu, from Botswana was impressed by the same technical and vocational training path young persons could pursue. To this day, he still uses the example of a 13-year-old who was studying car mechanics. “Learners are given an opportunity to decide their path, whether academic or vocational, and all paths are weighted the same,” Phelefu said.  

They were able to observe promising policies in action

Malick Sanokho, from Senegal, said he observed policies in Bordeaux, France, and Pamplona, Spain, in 2018 that supported more rational management of resources. “The chances for student success are equitable,” said Sanokho. “Those who are in difficulty receive additional pedagogical support.”

Ossom Mmah Ossom, from Nigeria, said his main takeaway in 2011 was how quality was integrated into every educational process. “With the basic education institutions visited in Dijon,” he explained, “we saw a very clear demonstration of the concept of quality in existing education policy, sector management, instructional facilities, curricula, and pedagogical resources, and teacher preparation and deployment.” 

The Study Visits also offered an opportunity for participants to interact with a variety of different actors: peers, trainers, education officials, teachers, and students, as well as representatives from the French National Commission.

For example, Amany Mostafa Kamel, from Egypt, said, “The most important thing that I got from my visit [in 2004] was the exchange of ideas and different cultural perspectives that were introduced to us during the training.”

While IIEP’s training offer has evolved in new ways, the value of these important Study Visits remains for planners across the globe.

IIEP Study Visits in France | Les visites d'étude de l'IIPE en France