- Discipline or Matière is a field taught in enseignement secondaire by a specific teacher : math, French, music are disciplines. History & Geography are generally considered as one discipline together because their are taught by the same teachers. In France, computer science is not currently considered a discipline.
- Cours has a lot of meanings.
- It can mean the content taught Le cours de M. Untel utilise très peu d'exemples : Mr. Untel's teaching uses very few examples ; Vous devez apprendre votre cours avant le TP You must learn the course before the lab session. By extension, a printed or digital document containing such content.
- It can also mean the period or duration of teaching : J'ai 4 heures de cours aujourd'hui I have 4 hours of lessons today ; Les cours du 25 mai sont avancés au 12 mai Lessons for the 25th of May will take place on the 12th of May.
- It can mean a lecture, in opposition to a lab session : Vous me rendrez vos comptes-rendus de TP lors du prochain cours You will hand me over your lab session reports at the next lecture. In universities, they say Cours magistral in this sense.
- It used to also mean grade (as in 1st grade) but is not anymore used in this sense, except in frozen acronyms like CE1 (Cours élémentaire 1ère année).
- Classe also has several meanings
- A grade. La classe de 6è succède à la classe de CM2 The 6th grade comes after the CM2 grade.
- A group of students following the same courses for one year. La classe de 6èA compte 24 élèves ; les 6èB sont 25 There are 24 pupils in 6èA; 25 are in 6èB. In this sense, the administration tends to use the word division.
- In old administrative texts it has the same meaning as cours, especially the sentence Les vacances commencent les jours indiqués ci-dessous, après la classe Vacations begin on the dates mentioned below, after the lessons.
- Programme is the official nationwide document mandating what should be taught in each discipline for a given classe.
School is not mandatory in France; there is only a duty for the parents to educate their children, which they can do buy sending them to the public school of their sector or a private school of their choice, or by educating them themselves (homeschooling), in which case inspectors of the Éducation nationale may verify from time to time their progress.
There is an École maternelle, usually from ages 3 to 5 (or 2 to 5, especially in regions of France where there has historically been an ideological tension between the public, secular schools and the private, religious schools).
Then you have two ordres d'enseignement : enseignement primaire and enseignement secondaire. Originally, these two orders were parallel : roughly speaking,
- bourgeois children would go to enseignement secondaire from ages 6 to 17 or 18, ultimately to prepare the baccalauréat. Grades are numbered like quarters of final and so on : I think it started in the 12è (12th) then 11è, etc. until 1ère (1st) and then terminale, where you terminated your secondary curriculum by taking the baccalauréat exam. Each discipline is taught by a specialized teacher.
- poorer children would go to enseignement primaire from ages 6 to 10, then 12 then 14 as the laws were revised. All courses are taught by the same teacher.
Nowadays, these ordre d'enseignement are in succession, which leads to a very bizarre numbering of the grades. Everybody goes to École primaire from ages 6 to 10 to follow enseignement primaire in grades CP, CE1, CE2, CM1, CM2. Then one goes to Collège from age 11 to 14 which is the beginning of the revised enseignement secondaire with the grades 6è, 5è, 4è and 3è. Then to Lycée from age 15 to 18 for 2nde, 1ère and terminale.
Then, students can enter higher education, which in France is dual. There is the Université with its european grades : Licence (3 years), Master (2 years) and Doctorat (3 years). Theoretically, anybody with baccalauréat can enter any Université ; in practice, due to an increase of students and budget cuts, there are not enough places everywhere; but since Université are not allowed to select their students, they pick them at random if there are too many candidates. There is also Classe préparatoires and Grandes Écoles, which on the contrary are selective curricula. The first part is a 2-year general preparation cycle, which are physically located within lycées, to national competitive exams (concours des Grandes Écoles) which allow students to enter one of these schools, where they usually remain for 3 years.
As I said, CS is not a discipline in secondary school. This means that no professor is recruited to teach it and that it does not have a specific alloted time or a programme. In collège, since 2016, elements of computer science (using Scratch) have been added to the math programme.
The programmes for math in lycée are being revised to take this into account ; starting 2017, students of 2nde should be taught some Python, up to the notion of function. The problem is that math teacher sometimes have never learned anything about CS.
In classes préparatoires, a specific CS course was created in 2014 (2hr/week for 3 semesters out of the 4 that exist in the cycle), but most often it is taught by math, physics or engineering teachers. Some teachers with a specialization in CS have been recruited who only teach these courses, although officially their are still math or physics teachers.
Université are not subject to the disciplines of enseignement secondaire and there has been a specific section for CS in the Conseil national des universités for ages.