French, a language of education for overseas elites
Learning French, an international language, is part of the education of elites in countries around the world; elites who, as they succeed in society and take their place among the ranks of decision-makers and at the helm of social and economic structures, in turn contribute to the reputation of our education system and universities and, on a wider level, to our scientific, technical and economic standing in the world.
This education is provided initially in French establishments overseas.
France maintains an overseas school network unparalleled in terms of numbers, geographic range and ambitions.
The network consists of 461 establishments approved by the Ministry of Education, 77 of which are managed directly by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE), and 166 of which are agency-regulated.
The AEFE network provides French education services to 250,000 pupils, including some 100,000 French nationals, in 130 countries. It provides the services of State education to expatriate French families. In welcoming over 150,000 foreign pupils, it also plays a key role in enhancing the diplomatic influence and the reputation of France around the world.
The educational strategy deployed by this network is geared to the needs and issues of the pupils it receives. French educational programmes are adapted to embrace the culture of the country in which each establishment is based. Open to innovation, these schools pursue a twofold aim of providing education in French and reinforcing the teaching of modern languages from primary level upwards. Developing bilingual classes makes it possible to promote simultaneously both the French language and multilingualism.
Education then continues by way of scientific and technical university courses in France as part of our policy of attracting elite overseas students onto training programmes often negotiated with our partners, to foster the acquisition of education and knowledge that will open up access to employment in the countries concerned, and to local universities and post-graduate schools in which French is not only taught but may also, for historical reasons, be the language of education, further entrenching the link between language, knowledge and technical skills.
The teaching of French, both for general use and as a language of specialisation, is the main concern of our network of Cultural Centres and Institutes and of the network of Alliance Française schools, all of which help to attract local elites and draw in new audiences, often attracted by the cultural environment that goes hand in hand with learning our language.
Together, these many opportunities create a dynamic that makes French the only international language spoken on all five continents. French ranks in ninth place in terms of total number of speakers (after Chinese, English, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Bengali). Yet it remains second only to English and well ahead of all other contenders as an international language, being the official language of 29 countries (56 OIF member governments and 14 observer nations give it special status), the language taught in most education systems and one of the official languages of major international institutions. The number of “real Francophones” is in the region of 110 million, but the Francophone world also includes some 61 million “occasional Francophones”.