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Education: Exams for Sale

2 minute read

It was the day before France’s dreaded college entrance exams. Timid, tense young Elaine Chollet asked the professor a question: Would he be kind enough to translate this English passage about Captain Forester? The teacher became agitated, hurriedly dismissed the class. That passage, he knew—but how did the student know?—was on one of the papers.

Next day, long before 8 a.m., streets on the Left Bank were crowded with 33,000 students ready for their bachots. They milled around the historic lycees, waiting for the doors to open on their first exam (French Composition and Literature). But the doors stayed stubbornly shut. Officials posted a curt notice: Exam postponed.

For two hours students, angry at the postponement, paraded through the Latin Quarter throwing cherry pits at cops, who struck back with rolled-up capes. Hundreds stormed the Education Ministry, demanding an explanation. Said an official: there had been corruption in the Ministry. For a promised (but undelivered) 10,000 francs, an underpaid functionary named Rene Houel had handed out an advance copy of the exams. In Latin Quarter cafes, the pirated exam papers had sold for 30,000 francs, and had been distributed so widely that the price fell to 2,000 francs. Elaine’s question about Captain Forester had tipped the Ministry off.

Elaine and her fellow black marketeers will be barred forever from French universities. Functionary Houel last week faced a possible five-year prison term. Cried Le Parisien Libéré: “A grave symptom of moral rottenness.”

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