When my parents decided to enroll me in the French educational system, they accepted the sacrifice (or benefit depending on your perspective) of putting me in a tiny school in Sharjah. I do not exaggerate when I use the term "tiny".
I began in first grade in 1975 and left at the tenth grade in 1985. When I started, the classrooms were prefabricated units. By the time I was in 3rd grade they were separate units, rectangular shaped white classrooms with one single large plane of glass to allow the desert light in, and to allow my imagination to wander out.
In elementary school, classes were taught two grades at a time. In total we were five per grade! Ten in a classroom with a single teacher. In principle, the school only took French citizens. They didn't have the infrastructure to take other nationalities and they certainly didn't want to abide by UAE rules that obligated them to teach Arabic and Religious studies if there were any Arabs. (Later these UAE laws were imposed onto all schools, so they began admitting non French citizens and started teaching Arabic and eventually religion).
My mother somehow convinced them to take me (have I mentioned in other posts how convincing she can be?), and so I was the only non French (French citizens of Lebanese and Chinese origin did study there, but that is the subject of another posting). My minority status was most apparent at "gouter" or snack time during recess, when the classmates ate their baguettes, their imported French biscuits (that I since crave) and I had my labneh sandwich or zaatar. I would eat in a corner away from their inquisitive questions. When my sister was born with an Arab name I told the teachers I 'd forgotten her name! But when I added an "e" to my last name, it was simply a spelling mistake. Isn't it hard to decide whether or not to add the silent e in French. My first name has one!
In secondary school, we were always under a dozen per classroom. We had one teacher per subject and the teachers rotated to the other grades. This meant I was "stuck" with the same French literature teacher for four years. Mme Regnault (that became my nickname when I began tutoring my own siblings) graded me the same throughout those four years, refusing to acknowledge any progress I made or good will.
However, the system we were in was quite intricate because the school was affiliated to the French Ministry of Education and since we lived so far from France, we had the CNED (Centre National Enseignement a Distance) program, by correspondence, to follow. Our exams were all sent to France.
Today, as I have mentioned in "The way I teach" my children follow the same system of CNED so that the Swiss government thinks they are home schooled in Geneva, where they are supposed to be living. The program is very rich, intricate, and well designed. I believe it has served my son well to follow it, despite the fact that we gloss over it, considering the fact that he is a full time student at school.
Surprisingly, I just learnt that Annie Ernaux, a talented writer that I have recently discovered, has taught literature at the CNED! Teaching by correspondence translates as correcting students work or as writing the program. What an honor! I am reading her short novel "La Place". It's a "auto-socio-biography". When her "petit commercant" (small shopkeeper) father passed away, she decided to write about him. She had gained bourgeois values by becoming an educated woman. She refused to romanticize the novel, lest she give in to art at the expense of her father, whose social category she didn't want to look down upon. She committed to a "ecriture plate" which means writing as is, almost in social science terms. I was ever so pleased to learn that she had contributed her intelligence to CNED!