It is obvious that a lack of education has accentuated inequalities, said the French Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer. “Social emergency” is the term he uses to describe the need to unlock schools across the country.
France started to reopen its education system after the blocking of primary schools, because it was even more important for young people than for older students, he said.
In the UK, there was strong opposition to the government’s plan to reopen schools in England on June 1. Some scientists, boards and teachers’ unions say it is too early to receive students safely.
In France, 40,000 primary schools have reopened since the lifting of isolation on May 11 with a few colleges.
So far, about one in five elementary school students has returned to class. Mr. Blanquer admitted that the children who returned were often those from wealthy families.
“It is true that children from poor families come less than others,” he said. “That’s why it was important to start in May, not June, because we know it’s [a] step by step [process] with poor families. It takes time to convince people. ”
Why is there a social divide?
Fathia Sissani lives in Seine-Saint-Denis, a poor suburb of Paris which recorded the highest death rate from coronavirus in France last month.
She is a single parent of three children, two girls and one boy, aged 11 to 14. She gave up work to care for her disabled middle child.
Her youngest, Riya, dropped out of school because it was too difficult for her to take online courses at home.
“I am a parent, not a teacher,” says Fathia. “I grew up in Algeria so I studied in Arabic. I speak French well, but I don’t understand math or grammar lessons. “
His internet connection was also a problem. “I had to switch providers because I didn’t have a good signal,” she said. “I was having trouble connecting to school. Everyone is online. We tried a little, but I had enough. “
Having everyone at home was difficult for Fathia. Her two daughters love school, but even if the schools reopen, she doesn’t send any to class yet.
“I was among the first parents to say” no “. I can’t afford to take that risk, ”she says. “At school, there are a lot of students; you can’t watch everyone or follow them all, you can’t let them play. So I’m against the idea. “
The city where the school doors remain closed
Parents are not yet required to send their child back to school in France, and many parents are concerned.
In Sens, a pretty market town 100 km south of Paris, all public primary schools have remained closed since the school closed due to three suspected cases of coronavirus reported by teachers. All have since been tested negative.
City mayor Marie-Louise Fort said his decision to close the 19 schools was very popular.
There is too much pressure on parents, she told me, because the government has asked each family to decide if their child should go back to school.
Personally, I think it should have been mandatory, or not at all
“The way it is happening now creates guilt for the parents,” said the mayor. “If they put their kids in school and they get sick, they will feel guilty; if they keep them at home and fall behind, they will feel guilty. When you govern, you will have to make clear decisions. “
How the government is trying to bring the children back
When I asked the Minister of Education if it was unfair to pass on so much responsibility to parents, he replied that the reasoning behind this decision was exactly the opposite.
It is impossible to tell a family that they are obliged to send their child back if they do not want to, in this kind of context
Even before the closings, more than 90% of Sens parents told the local education service that they would not send their children back to school. And most of the parents we spoke to in the city said that they still plan to keep their children at home.
“The best way to reassure parents about safety is with other parents and other children,” said Mr. Blanquer. “The fact that the first 10 days were successful is the best factor, because people see on TV that they are fine, they are happy to come back. “
The Department of Education has issued 56 pages of detailed instructions for schools on how to keep their school clean and the safety of their students in the hopes of gaining confidence.
There should be no more than 15 children in a class, no shared toys and no scheduled school arrivals. Children over 11 years old must also wear masks.