FRENCH pupils will start learning a foreign language from the age of five and primary schools will put a new emphasis on literacy and new technologies under plans just announced by education minister Jack Lang.
Concerned by the 10 to 20 per cent of pupils who underperform in reading and writing at secondary school, Mr Lang announced reforms aimed at the 6.5 million under-10s in nursery and primary schools. The reforms will be introduced over the next few years, starting in September.
They will begin in the final year of nursery school with increased emphasis on spoken French and exercises which later help children develop handwriting.
Teachers should instil a "taste and passion for reading", he said, announcing plans that include half a million new books for primary libraries.
The minister wants to ensure that all pupils starting secondary school have mastered basic skills. New councils will oversee evaluation processes and develop new methods of ensuring pupil success.
Currently about half of all six and seven-year-olds and about three-quarters of children in the last primary year have language lessons - mostly in English.
Mr Lang wants languages introduced progressively from 2005 to all pupils from the final nursery year u. He also wants parents to choose languages other than English for their children to study, and cited Arabic as an alternative.
A second language will be taught from the beginning of secondary school. To increase the number of language teachers, teacher training institutes will need to rush in language courses for primary trainees. More volunteer teachers and language assistants will also be called in.
The minister is keen to step up computerisation, connecting all primary schools to the Internet by June 2002 and subsidising local authorities which cannot afford the investment. Primary pupils who have mastered the technology will earn a certificate.
Appropriately for a former culture minister, Mr Lang will encourage education in the arts; he envisages a choir in every school, cultural classes and integration of the arts in other studies.
"Plastic arts are linked to geo- metry, giving awareness of perspective; theatre is connected to literature by bringing life to texts," he said.
Faced with falling numbers of university students opting for scientific courses, he wants to promote methods of popularising science at primary school.
Mr Lang also talked of lowering the school starting age to five instead of six - although nursery schools are already attended by 99.4 per cent of five-year-olds and most three-year-olds.