France: Reforms follow October uprising

Only diehards of the October 98 lyc#233;e movement took to the streets again last week in a final defiant gesture to the Government, which had just announced an emergency #163;470 million action plan to improve their working conditions.

Education minister Claude All#232;gre responded to pupils' complaints of overloaded timetables, overcrowded classes, teacherless lessons and mounting school violence with measures to lighten the curriculum and recruit thousands of extra teachers and support staff.

The reforms were originally part of a package due to take effect from next September and based on findings of a national lycee consultation at the beginning of the year.

At their most extreme the new curriculum changes will, according to the minister, cut the equivalent of six weeks from physics, chemistry and natural science courses for those studying for the scientific baccalaureat.

The aim, he said, was to develop intelligence rather than memory, to teach pupils to "understand and reflect" rather than accumulate knowledge, some of which is "totally unadapted to the changing world".

French and maths programmes will also be adjusted and the bac exam in history and geography, taught as one subject, will be recast around a general period or theme instead of focusing on narrow parts of the course.

The academies (local authorities under the national education ministry) have been told to recruit an extra 3,000 teachers through wider selection from the competitive teaching examinations. They are also to be allowed to appoint qualified teachers who are currently doing their national service.

Some 14,000 posts for support and security staff are being created, and 1,000 additional foreign assistants will help with language teaching.

Mr All#232;gre has also ordered lycees to introduce greater internal democracy, with more pupils on decision-making bodies, co-management by pupils of funds for school activities and the imminent introduction of a charter spelling out pupils' rights.

Regional authorities, responsible for maintaining lycee buildings, have been allocated #163;400m of interest-free loans over four years to renovate dilapidated schools, replace obsolete equipment and to improve facilities. This should mean new lecture halls, common rooms and teachers' offices.

Turn-out at least week's demonstration was way below the half million who protested in October - nationally they totalled fewer than 30,000.

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