ODYSSEY, ITS GENESIS, ITS MISSIONS, ITS PROJECTS
Français à l’étranger: How did the Odyssey Group come into being and under what circumstances?
Jonathan Derai: Odyssey is a French international education group that brings together 16 schools in 15 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. Our primary motivation as founders is our passion for education and the French language. In a context where the global demand for education is constantly growing, we wanted to create a new educational offer that would combine French educational excellence with international openness, innovation and multilingualism, all of which are essential for the training of students in the 21st century. We created our first schools in 2017 and 2019, whose pedagogical quality was quickly recognized by the French authorities and which enjoyed the confidence of families. Since then, our schools have grown, as has our group, which has seen many schools join us, driven by the same values and the same ambition.
FAE: How do you keep French education alive in a context where the English language and Anglo-Saxon education are becoming increasingly important throughout the world?
J.D.: This is precisely Odyssey’s mission! We are a fully French and international educational group. Fully French because from our headquarters in Paris, we have built a team of pedagogical experts who allow us to make our schools showcases of French educational excellence. But also fully international, because training young people from all over the world to be fulfilled and enlightened citizens requires us to think about teaching and learning from both a local and international perspective. This is why, from kindergarten to high school, our teaching is multilingual, with English and the language of the country (and even more so in high school) alongside French.
We welcome students of all nationalities to French high schools that will offer them a truly international education based on strong human values and will integrate them into what will be for them a community for life. This internationally oriented education, combined with our demand for pedagogical quality and innovation, implies adapting to the needs and characteristics of each student (personality, strengths, weaknesses). Our priority is the success and fulfillment of each of them in their schooling to offer them a passport to the world’s leading universities.
FAE: How would you define the pedagogy implemented in your schools?
J.D.: Our students come from diverse backgrounds and we are convinced of the need to accomplish our educational mission through the notion of personalized and active pedagogy. In particular, this means considering the student as an actor in his or her learning, while developing social and behavioral skills. What we call soft skills. On the other hand, we want to offer an education that responds to contemporary issues where digital, scientific and creative activities are strategic. These elements contribute to a certain number of standards that we call the “Odyssey markers”. Our ambition is to offer students the best of both worlds: French academic excellence and the dynamism of international education. And we pay particular attention to the quality of our teachers. Their expertise, commitment and ongoing training are at the heart of our teaching methods. Our teachers find in our schools an environment that allows them to express their talent and creativity.
FAE: How do you manage to integrate multilingualism into your programs?
J.D.: This is a very important subject that we have worked on rigorously, based on the best pedagogical practices validated by research and in the field. First of all, I would like to remind you that the French language remains our language of reference in all circumstances. It is the condition for the accreditation of our schools and for the success of our students in French exams. Moreover, if a student does not yet have a perfect command of the French language when he or she arrives in elementary school, we integrate him or her into our “Passerelle” program, which allows him or her to benefit from personalized and accelerated language reinforcement.
As for English, it is already – or is in the process of becoming in schools that have just joined us – taught on a daily basis starting in kindergarten. This also applies to the local language. Whatever the context of our schools, it is essential that our students have a perfect command of English at the end of their schooling. That is why all of our teachers are native speakers who follow the French curriculum but teach in their native language. This allows our students to benefit from integrated instruction where, for example, they learn French or English but also in French and English.
FAE: You signed a framework agreement with the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) last July. What does this agreement mean for you?
J.D.: This agreement is a framework for cooperation with the State and institutional recognition of Odyssey as a private player that contributes to enriching the French education offer worldwide and is already present in some 15 countries. The AEFE leads this formidable network of French education abroad, which contributes to the influence of France, and has been set a goal by the government to double the number of students enrolled by 2030, relying in particular on private initiatives. This framework agreement allows for ongoing dialogue between the AEFE and Odyssey on several key themes ranging from education to development. Alongside traditional institutional players, Odyssey contributes to enriching the French education offer abroad through our identity as a private and international education group.
FAE: What are the main projects you are currently working on?
J.D.: Our priority is to go further and further in pedagogical excellence and the development of our educational community. We are preparing several announcements in this sense for 2022: exciting new programs in science and technology, the acceleration of our digital pedagogy, cultural projects involving all our establishments, new training programs for our teachers, etc.
We also have a particularly emblematic project, that of making the Saint Dominic Institute in Rome a truly international campus that aims to become a reference in Europe and in the French education network worldwide. The Institut Saint-Dominique will offer a fully trilingual curriculum and will open a new English IB section in the high school. On its unique 5-hectare campus, we will open an “Odyssey Academy” with a new boarding school that will welcome students from all over the world, and in particular from our network, to spend terms or semesters “outside the school”, participating in holiday camps, cultural and sports internships, etc. It will be a true international hub and a showcase for Odyssey in educational and cultural terms.
 The founders of Odyssey are Luc Chatel (former Minister of Education), Younes Slaoui (former strategy consultant) and Jonathan Derai (former chief of staff at the Ministry of Education).