Photo: Carlos Porto

Excerpt taken from the book The Story of French (Ch. 6)

Many plans were made during the revolutionary period to establish a system of free primary schools throughout France. But the results were meagre; it was partly a problem of manpower and partly the result of general political chaos. In many French towns there were no teachers who spoke French, and few towns had the resources to train new ones. The National Assembly came up with a vast plan to produce and distribute teaching books in French, but amid the political and social upheaval of the Revolution, the books never got printed. In 1794, seeing the poor results of the Committee for Public Instruction, the revolutionary government decided to create a teacher-training school in Paris, the École normale (teachers’ college, a term still in use).

Each of the Départements (administrative territories created during the Revolution) had orders to send four individuals “with a disposition for teaching” to Paris, where they would be provided with accommodation and paid during their training. But even that wasn’t enough to get universal education off the ground. France would have to wait until the middle of the nineteenth century for a universal primary education system to be established.

French spread rapidly during the Revolution, but by other means. Administrators were sent all over France by the central government, with the result that men from different regions were mixed together and had to use French as a common language. Mass conscription, which began under Robespierre, also mixed soldiers from different regions in France, forcing them to adopt French as a common language.