Facts of life build confidence
At their lower secondary school, the College Nicolas Fouquet in Mormant, a small country town about 50 kilometres from Paris, they told schools minister Segolene Royal how a health information project had boosted their self-confidence, made them more tolerant and plugged gaps in their knowledge about sensitive issues which many of them found difficult to discuss with their parents.
For the past two-and-a-half years Nicolas Fouquet has been one of 19 coll ges taking part in a pilot scheme which, in addition to usual lessons, provides 20 hours of health education a year to pupils aged between 13 and 15. Following the scheme's positive results Mme Royal has announced plans to extend it to all lower secondaries, as part of a comprehensive relaunch of school medical services.
Each school fixes its own programme, covering not only pupils' physical and psychological well-being but also the social environment and relationships.
At Nicolas Fouquet the 12 mixed classes deal with topics including nutrition, contraception, Aids and other sexually-transmitted diseases, the body, a girl's first visit to the gynaecologist, homosexuality and tackling racism, child abuse or teenage problems.
Discussions are backed up by articles from newspapers and films such as Philadelphia, which tells the story of a gay man dying of Aids.
In one session they practise fitting a condom on a model.
Pupils are enthusiastic, even though sessions add about half an hour to their school week and sometimes take place on Wednesdays, normally a free day. Their comments reveal them as more self-confident, better able to communicate at home and at school, and less worried about adolescence.