In France, the agrégation is a civil service competitive examination for some positions in the public education system. The laureates are known as agrégés. A similar system exists in other countries.

There are actually two different agrégations:

Secondary education

The main one and the better known is for secondary education, leading to the position of professeur agrégé. Its difficulty and selectivity varies greatly between disciplines: there are about 300 such positions open each year in mathematics, but a few dozen in philosophy, and perhaps one in some rarely taught foreign languages such as Japanese. The professeurs agrégés are a higher category of teachers compared to the professeurs certifiés, recruited through the CAPES. In theory, the agrégés should teach in high schools (lycées) and even in university-level classes, while the certifiés should teach in junior high schools (collèges), though there is significant overlap.

In addition to those teaching in normal sections of lycées (the vast majority), some agrégés teach in the preparatory classes to the grandes écoles. Finally some agrégés teach in normal universities, but do not, nominally, do scientific research as normal university academics do ; these positions are known as PRAG. Some similar but temporary positions (agrégé préparateur, AGPR), including research, exists in the écoles normales supérieures, though these are obviously very few and very hard to obtain.

The agrégation is normally open only to holders of a 4-year college education (formerly, maîtrise) or above. Its preparation often takes a full additional year at the university, for the so-called external agrégation. There also exists an internal agrégation for professeurs certifiés, though it lacks the prestige of the external one. The following discusses the external one.

The exam generally consists in a written part (admissibility) where most candidates are eliminated, followed by an oral part (admission) where the candidate must demonstrate his ability to prepare and give lessons on about any topic within the scope of his discipline.

In most disciplines, the lessons expected extend well above the secondary education level; the candidate may, in effect, have to present a lesson appropriate for the 2nd, 3rd or even 4th years of specialized studies at a university. One reason for that is that the agrégés should be able to teach in special undergraduate sections of high schools known as preparatory classes to the grandes écoles, where the level is above the normal level of 1st or 2nd year college education – though the vast majority of agrégés teach in ordinary secondary education.

The agrégation is also used as a kind of national ranking system for students, giving a fair comparison between students of different universities. This is especially true in the humanities, where the agrégation is highly selective and serves as a test on the culture of the candidate. The students of the écoles normales supérieures often give up an entire year of their adult life to prepare for any potential question.

Higher education

In some disciplines of higher education such as law and economics, there exists an agrégation for the professorship positions. In this competitive exam, the candidate also has to give a lesson in front of a committee. However, the candidate has a full day to prepare for the examination, may use several libraries as well as a team of "helpers".

Some sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu have argued that this exam measures a candidate's social connections as much their ability to present a lesson — consider, for example, that a candidate for a Law professorship may be helped by first-class attorneys if he happens to know them.

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