Publish at March 09 2020 Updated November 10 2022

Commitment to equal opportunity, a multi-faceted struggle

Overcoming social determinism

We touched on this in the article on school dropout. Studies on the social determinisms of school success are numerous. They show a progression of inequalities and highlight the multiple facets of these determinisms. Discrimination, but also self-censorship and poor mastery of informal skills, considered peripheral during schooling, but essential in higher education and the professional world.

So what to do? To resign oneself to the bad statistics of social reproduction, to highlight the weight of one's background in academic success, is to favor the realization of pessimistic prophecies. 

Many actors are trying through punctual actions or ambitious schemes to limit the weight of these determinisms. We offer a few examples of actions.

Witnessing, to help understand and encourage

The podcast site peripheries. lets us hear from young students who have outwitted statistics and social determinism. The July 3, 2019 program gives the floor to Alicia and Mourad, who have each joined a grande école in France. The entrance exams there are reputedly difficult and statistics show that only 4 percent of working-class children integrate these paths.

A limited vision of possible paths

Both confirm that higher education was completely unknown to them and their families until after high school. They envisioned a profession like their parents' and short studies, because they had no representation of what a longer course of study and engineering or managerial jobs might look like.

In contrast to other teenagers, these two students had no examples around them. The first encounter with corporate executives is during the admission orals.

Presenting oneself, telling one's story : a particularly difficult test

This is an additional difficulty. The art of informal discussion and argumentation is not learned much in school, but it is commonly practiced in more advantaged settings, where parents have significant cultural capital.

Efforts are made by volunteers, teachers or associations such as Article 1. Quentin's case is interesting. In the orals, candidates talk about their experiences and what they've been through. At just twenty years old. It's sometimes thin. Young people from wealthy families will talk about their hobbies, their vacations abroad, their language immersions while the others have little to talk about. They may even sometimes understand that it is better not to talk too much about their environment, their geographical origin and their daily life.

As an inspiring experience, Quentin explains on Article1 that he had the opportunity to replace a sports columnist on a local radio station.  He managed to impress one of his teachers by talking about it. That was the trigger that helped him pass all of his orals brilliantly thereafter.

When young people censor themselves

Young people feel that there is an insurmountable barrier and a glass ceiling. This is known as self-censorship and self-stigmatization when the groups themselves end up attributing flaws to themselves.

Lack of professional life references and interpersonal skills suitable for competitive juries can develop a sense of incompetence. Alicia, for example, believed for a long time that she was not cut out for long studies. The numerous testimonials show that young people deny themselves certain choices.

The importance of caring messages

In the journeys of young people who have successfully overcome stereotypes, there is often an encounter or encounters. Encounters that make people grow and open up perspectives, or encounters that assign a place on the social chessboard. Quentin testifies to the few words of his speech teacher. In the same way, the young people accompanied by the Article 1 association insist on the importance of positive encounters in the construction of oneself. Others, on the contrary, remember an orientation suffered, experienced as a fatality.

Beyond the achievement or not of educational objectives, the role of adults therefore also lies in this benevolent, non-judgmental, individualized look at the potential of young people.

Project dynamics, getting out of disciplines to better return to them

Changing the image that students have of themselves is also what the Marcel Pagnol middle school of Valence is proposing. It proposes to a class of third to create and manage a mini-company. It is a student who is the director and the class performs all the functions of the company.

All the teachers are mobilized around this business project, which is in fact an educational project. The disciplines are approached in another context, rather rewarding since it is ceramics and pottery.

Speech as a social marker

In the interview he gives on Peripheries, Mourad tells us  "I didn't know the codes. A good part of the skills evaluated in competitive exam orals or job interviews is related to this knowledge of codes.

Dress, relational ease, vocabulary, and the art of discussion are areas with which one becomes familiar very quickly in more privileged environments. It is a late discovery for others. Sylvie Plane, vice president of the curriculum council in France insisted in 2015 on the need to teach oral language in Pedagogical Notebooks.

Petephane de Freitas is a former athlete. He has personally experienced the feeling of exclusion experienced when our language reflects our social origins. He created Eloquentia, which carries the values attached to dialogue, but also allows young people from modest classes to aim for eloquence competitions. 

As an extension of this commitment, Stéphane de Freitas proposes the Solidarity Tie, whose purpose is to help job applicants in the choice of their outfit.
All of these experiences, which involve redoubled efforts for the students, and positive support from the teachers bring results. They move the lines, and change the representations of universities, grandes écoles or employers. This awareness is the second step, to transform these few stories of punctual success and move to another scale.

Another change of view is that of Alice, Mourad and Quentin, who after a difficult path chose to look at their origin as a strength.

Illustrations : Frédéric Duriez

Testimonies :
Peripheries - "we have no idea what we're worth" show, July 3, 2019 listened to on March 2, 2020.

The association "Article 1" which fights against social determinisms :
Sylvie Plane- pedagogical notebooks Why should oral be taught? - August 31, 2015, accessed March 7, 2020

Le Dauphiné - Collège Marcel Pagnol students create Eco'Pot mini-company, June 2019, accessed March 7, 2020

Perseverance: avoiding school dropout  - Frédéric Duriez

See more articles by this author




Access exclusive services for free

Subscribe and receive newsletters on:

  • The lessons
  • The learning resources
  • The file of the week
  • The events
  • The technologies

In addition, index your favorite resources in your own folders and find your history of consultation.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Add to my playlists

Create a playlist

Receive our news by email

Every day, stay informed about digital learning in all its forms. Great ideas and resources. Take advantage, it's free!