French Lifestyle  Once upon a time, the Baccalauréat…
09/07/201515:00 TV5MONDE
From the first promotion in 1808 until today, the Baccalauréat exam has been subject to several modifications. This article outlines some important historical facts that only few people might know, with an outlook of the 2015 results.


In France, Tuesday July 7th 2015 was a very important day for thousands of French students... They would eventually discover THE results. 
After a year of total devotion to their studies, every single student has been able to feel a nervous tension, as one got closer to the board where the results are displayed.


It was a big relief for the one who passed. They can now enjoy the summer holiday.  Some of them might as well jump for joy as they received distinction: a "mention bien"; “mention très bien”; or even the “Félicitations du Jury”...
Stress is not over yet for those who were assigned to "aller aux rattrapages", literally: to go to the retake. They now have to select two subjects for which they will have another attempt by taking an oral exam. 
Unfortunately, screams of joy were mixed with cries and tears of disappointments for those who didn’t succeed this year. "Recalé" as it is said, or "collé" in a more familiar way...They will have to start over next September... and next year will be their time to jump!


The Baccalauréat is similar to the A-level. This exam delimits the end of what is called "Enseignement Secondaire" or secondary studies and opens the way to the higher education or "Enseignement Supérieur".

It was originally established in 1808 by Napoléon to modernize the old Baccalauréat exam from Paris University (created in 1150!). In Latin, “bacca laurea” means the laurel wreath. 

Painting of Napoléon Ist in a uniform of 
colonel des grenadiers à pied de la Garde,
by François Gérard ©France Culture

Furthermore, the Bac (short name for Baccalauréat) also characterizes the transition to adulthood, as students usually reach majority (18 years old) the same year. A taste of freedom, some will say… 

In 2015, 684 734 “lycéens” or students took the Baccalauréat exam.
In 1809, they were only … 39!

At this time it only consisted in oral exams and chances of success reached 95%. The first written exam was added in 1830 because it was until then seen as too easy. 

"Class picture at Lycée Henri IV Paris, 5eme arrondissement" - 1914 © commons.wikimedia

What about women?

Moreover at that time, the Bac was only accessible to male candidates. Julie-Victoire Daubié was the first lady to obtain the Baccalauréat in 1861. 
Ladies and gentlemen used to go to different schools and received a different education. Ladies were not taught Latin and neither Math’s, whereas the Baccalauréat exam was elaborated strictly in … Latin!!!
Julie-Victoria Daubié was lucky to have a vicar as a brother, who taught her Latin. She was already working as a primary school teacher when she took the Baccalauréat exam in Lyon.
The Minister however refused to sign her diploma. It was then the Empress Eugénie, the spouse of Napoléon II, who spoke up for her, which led to a scandal in the Minister’s assembly. Thanks to Eugenie, 
Julie-Victoire Daubié’s certificate of Baccalauréat was finally approved two years after she took the exam.

Year 1894-1895 - "classe de 3e année de la scolarité en cinq ans" 
« Lycée de jeunes filles 050 » by André Payan-Passeron 

This was just the beginning of a long battle. Madame Daubié has been very much involved in the equality of rights between men and women regarding the right to vote and the access to higher education...
The number of female candidates rose to 10 in 1892, and 1000 in 1920!
After the World War I, more and more evening courses were organized for women, so that they could meet the educational level of the male students. 
The first co-educational scholar programmes were only introduced in 1924


Year 1956-57 - classe de 1ère latin-grec « Lycée de jeunes filles 055 » par André Payan-Passeron © 

Jules Ferry established the primary schools as mandatory and made public schools free and lay in year 1881.
The General Baccalauréat: ES, S, L series (originally A, B, C and D) was extended to technological series: STI, STL, SMS and STT in the 1980’s by the French Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement. 


2015 Facts: 
This year, the youngest student who passed the exam is 13 years old. The oldest is … 93 years old! 
This year, 81.6% of students passed for the General Bac (1.3 point higher than in 2014); 80.2% for the technological series (-0.6 point compared to last year) and 72.6% for the professional series (-2.7points).

Some changes in the French educational system are expected for the following years…

We hope that you enjoyed this article about the Bac. Please share your comments and also share with your friends. Merci! 
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