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Alarm over an epidemic of ennui


French pupils are bored - but should we blame teachers or the low attention span of a generation who are 'children of the remote control'? Jane Marshall reports.

Boredom among pupils - a universal but neglected problem as old as school itself - was in the spotlight at a conference in Paris last week. The government is concerned at an epidemic of ennui said to be afflicting France's centrally controlled school system.

Educationists, psychologists, biologists, philosophers and sociologists gathered to discuss the problem of boredom, which countless famous French men and women have experienced.

Mr Ferry, a celebrated philosopher before President Chirac appointed him to his post last May, opened the conference by confessing that in his own school days "80 per cent of us were as bored as dead rats". But he added that school was not supposed to be fun and pupils must not confuse it with entertainment.

Government research on this traditionally taboo subject disclosed that two-thirds of 11 to 15-year-olds are bored in class, and 85 per cent of young teachers have encountered it among their pupils.

A third of teachers of all ages said that lack of motivation was the biggest problem affecting their relationships with pupils, according to the secondary teachers' union SNES.

However, experts say that the behaviour of pupils who are bored is deteriorating Whereas children used to yawn silently, they are now readier to express their ennui more ostentatiously, according to teacher-training expert Philippe Meirieu, one of the speakers at the conference organised by the Conseil National des Programmes, equivalent to Britain's Qualifications andCurriculum Authority.

Delegates agreed that bored pupils were more likely to be insolent, disruptive and, in extreme cases, violent or likely to drop out of school.

A national consultation of lycee students organised by Professor Meirieu in 1998 asked what they thought important to learn but found boring. Answers included grammar, historical dates and definitions. Memorising and learning about events or facts which are too far removed from their own lives was also regarded as uninspiring.

He said schools were suffering from the culture of instant gratification born out of the entertainment age. "We are confronted with the children of the remote control. They cannot put up with having to sit still," he added.

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