“Disaffection” for Science Studies : Paradoxes of the French Case
Young people’s disaffection for science studies is a phenomenon common to many industrialized countries. It is too readily attributed to young people’s presumed image of science. In the French case it would be more accurate to attribute this phenomenon to socio-demographic causes. The fact that there is no simple connection between choice of higher education study path and disciplinary content is shown by a striking paradox : higher education enrolment in Physics-Chemistry began falling sharply in France at precisely the moment a Physics-Chemistry concentration was introduced at the lycée [high school] level. The explanation proposed here pertains to the French disciplinary hierarchy. For many lycée students, the choice of physics-chemistry rather than mathematics is associated with lower scholastic ambition, this in turn associated with lower scholastic performance and/or more modest social background. This observation is generalizable. One of the causes of disaffection for science studies in France is the increasingly less distinguishing character of lycée science studies. Over the last fifteen years and particularly since 1995, steadily increasing numbers of female lycée students, “average” students, and students of modest social background have chosen to obtain a science-concentration baccalauréat [lycée leaving examination and degree]. With all else kept equal, students in each of these categories, for reasons specific to it, are also less likely to opt for long higher education science studies.