Debate hears a million voices

16th April 2004 at 01:00

Motivating pupils and combating violence have emerged as the two hottest issues in France's debate on the future of its education system.

The debate was launched last September following president Chirac's election pledge to consult the people in preparation for the first major education act since 1989, which would determine education's direction for the next 15 to 20 years.

Last week, the commission conducting the debate presented its preliminary findings to the education minister, Francois Fillon, in a 637-page report, Le Miroir du debat. It reflects the concerns and views expressed by more than a million participants - nearly half of them teachers - in 26,000 public meetings, 50,000 emails, 1,500 letters, and 300 submissions from students, family and professional associations and organisations. The commission's website recorded 400,000 hits.

Mr Fillon welcomed "this consultation on a scale and richness without precedent", and has promised to present legislation to parliament in the autumn.

The debate focused on 22 questions covering themes such as the values of republican education; the curriculum and evaluation; whether schools should have greater autonomy; teachers' relations with pupils and parents; and whether the balance between educating children and adults should be redrawn to include more involvement in the world of work. Each public meeting dealt on average with three of the questions, and the commission found the issue that stood out was "How to motivate pupils and make them work efficiently," which was raised at about half the local debates. Such public attention is likely to have repercussions for the evaluation system and teacher training.

Claude Thelot, the commission's chairman, said it indicated that "not only must teachers transmit knowledge, but they must ensure that it is well received and understood."

Whereas previously "a teacher was recruited because he was good at maths, now he must show he's equally good at teaching".

The participants' second concern, raised at nearly a quarter of the meetings, was "How to fight successfully against violence and incivilities". This was of particular interest to many teachers who reported their feelings of isolation when dealing with the problem, calling into question the role of parents and the educational hierarchy.

Other major preoccupations were how schools should adapt to pupil diversity, helping pupils in difficulty and how parents and other partners outside school could contribute to children's achievements.

The commission will report back in June with recommendations for future changes.

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