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Minister concretes in his reforms

Jane Marshall reports on the first changes to the primary curriculum for a decade. For the first time in 10 years France's primary curriculum is being reformed. The changes, which take effect from September, give priority to reading and writing, lighten the maths programme and modify history, geography and civic instruction.

Schools may also choose to start teaching a foreign language to seven-year-olds, in anticipation of a general introduction of languages from 1996.

Launching the plans, which include nursery schools, Francois Bayrou, the education minister, recognised that the perceptions of young children were "naturally concrete" rather than abstract, and the curriculum has been revised with this in mind.

History is to become more personalised and vivid; older pupils will learn about 20 French historic dates through faces and events such as Clovis, the Lascaux cave paintings, Joan of Arc, General de Gaulle and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The last revision of the primary curriculum was in 1985 under Jean-Pierre Chev nement, the socialist education minister. In 1989 Lionel Jospin - now the socialists' candidate for the forthcoming presidential election - organised nursery and elementary education into three cycles, each of two or three years, designed to make the early years of schooling more child-centred and flexible to suit individual pupils' needs.

M Bayrou has made basic mastery of French, both written and spoken, his priority. He has stressed careful presentation of work in exercise books as an aid to learning - "order on the page corresponds to order in the head" - while computer and word-processing skills are only briefly touched upon.

The first two years of maths will be simplified and lightened; "discovery" (rather than M Chev nement's "acquisition") of division will be postponed for a year, and by the end of the second year (age seven to eight) pupils will only be expected to have mastered addition and to have started subtraction and multiplication.

Despite teachers' protests over lack of time for preparation, second-year primary pupils will have the option of studying a foreign language for 10 or 15 minutes a day. However, the initiative, promised by the minister last year in his "new contract for schools" programme, is to remain voluntary until 1996.

The civic instruction course will be trimmed, and centred around major republican principles which stress respect for others and citizens' duties.

In keeping with the spirit of social responsibility, booklets giving details about the new curriculum will be made widely available to parents.

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