A youth employment scheme introduced by the Socialist-led government has increased pupils' use of computers, improved library services and led to more school trips, according to a report from the education ministry's two inspectorates.
Nearly 33,000 classroom assistants aged between 18 and 26 have been appointed during the scheme's first five months, most of them working in primary or lower secondary schools. Educated at least to baccalaureat level they are employed on five-year contracts and paid at or just abovethe national minimum wage.
They are among the first 50,000 young people who have found jobs under the youth job creation programme which was introduced last year by employment minister Martine Aubry. The scheme aims to recruit 150,000 young people by the end of this year, and 350,000 by 2001, not only in education but in other public organisations, local government, transport and the police.
In their study of those employed in schools, the two inspectorates looked at five academies (education authorities) - Aix-Marseille, Bordeaux, Creteil, Lille and Limoges - which were judged to give a fair representation of the country as a whole and to illustrate the advantages and drawbacks of the programme.
They found that the authorities had generally set up the scheme without trouble and that demand in schools for the assistants was high. The young people themselves were usually satisfied with their work, though they were sometimes required to take on educational tasks, such as helping pupils learn to read, which were strictly speaking outside their remit. The report warned of a danger that the assistants' jobs could become too administrative or technical.
But the report explained how the classroom assistants had shown they could improve the education system. "The computer equipment is used more often; the libraries have been revitalised; cultural and educational activities which could not be organised before because of lack of staff are being developed; in countless places a notable decrease in acts of violence and absenteeism has already been observed," it said.