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Pupils become MPs for a day

France.

Recognition of the importance of citizenship education is bringing the subject to classrooms from Europe to Australia.

Schools and local authorities have been banned from buying equipment made by children in countries where their rights are not respected.

At a special session in the national assembly recently, deputes voted in favour of a bill making such purchases illegal. The measure will become law, although the parliamentarysitting was in reality only aglorified exercise in civics.

The 577 representatives, one for every constituency in France, were primary school pupils who became MPs for the day for the fifth annual Children's Parliament, a national initiative to increase awareness of democracy, government and legislative processes.

Preparations started last September, when local inspectors selected the classes that would take part and choose a pupil to represent them in Paris. Each class produced a draft bill and a national jury whittled the 577 down to 10. On the morning of the Parliament, the young deputes reduced these to just three, on which they voted in the afternoon.

They sat on red benches in the marbled and gilded semi-circular debating chamber in the 18th-century Palais de Bourbon, listening to the President of the National Assembly, Laurent Fabius, explain the workings of the House. Then they put questions to schools minister Segol ne Royal.

They voted for the anti-exploitation bill submitted by the Ecole Saint-Exupery in Sarcelles which, as is now traditional, will be adopted by a depute and passed into French law.

Civics has long been part of the primary and coll ge (lower secondary) curriculum, and the government wants lycees to include it as well. It aims to teach what the French call "Republican values" such as equality, democracy, rights and duties. Lessons cover such items as the Declaration of Human Rights, appropriate behaviour at home and school and acting responsibly.

Since taking office last year, Mme Royal has stressed strengthening civics. In May she announced measures for "improving living together and good citizenship at school" from nursery to lycee. They include a school charter for every school, to be signed by teachers, pupils and parents, defining everyone's rights and duties; a "book of life" for each nursery child to tell parents how their child is doing at school. The subject will be reinforced at coll ge, and introduced in the end-of-school exam there from 1999.

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