12 million students go back to school

Some 12 million French students crossed the school gates on Thursday after two months of vacation: maskless but in a climate of concern about the lack of teachers, even as the government assures that “the start of the school year is going well”.

After two months of vacation, high school students (6.5 million), college students (3.4 million) and high school students (2.2 million) started in the morning to find their friends, get to know their teachers and discover their schedule.

“In which class are you?” asks a child in a white sweatshirt and a pink satchel in the large courtyard of the Nina-Simone college in Lille.

The children, gathered in the courtyard, exchange a few words or stay close to their parents, listening to the speech of the headmistress of this college of about 500 students of which only the sixth Thursday morning comes back to school.

At the call of their names, the new students leave the group at a brisk pace to join the ranks two by two. Jules joins the sixth + Blacklash blues+, and goes upstairs with his head teacher. Here the classes have no numbers but are named after Nina Simone’s songs.

Unlike the two previous back-to-school periods, teachers and students will not be wearing a face mask this start of the school year due to the silence on the Covid-19 front.

Two years ago, college and high school students had to put it on. Last year this was the case for all CP students.

“We were delighted to put the Covid-19 at bay,” said Nathalie Yahiatene, director of the Nina-Simone college. “Seeing these faces without a mask, but what luck!”.

– “Good conditions” –

In Lyon, in front of the Aristide-Briand primary school, Guillermo Feo, 38, father of a CP student, is also delighted: “For the children it is a relief not to wear a mask. Don’t wear one either and that will reduce communication make it much easier”.

If the start of the school year this year is not under the sign of the Covid, then under that of the teacher recruitment crisis.

A phenomenon that is not new, but has worsened this year, with more than 4,000 open vacancies in the country’s competitions, of the 27,300 vacancies in the public and private sectors (and a total of 850,000 teachers).

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wanted to reassure Thursday. “Thanks to the work carried out by the Minister (of Education) and all his teams, I think we can say that today we have a back to school that is going well,” she said during a trip to a university in Airaines (Somme ).

On his side, Education Minister Pap Ndiaye added that “the feedback from the various rectorates (their) suggests that the start of the school year is going well”.

“It doesn’t mean that all problems are solved, there are difficulties here and there, in certain disciplines or in certain academies.

But at that point everything is going as planned, because we had a lot of confidence in the mobilization of all the staff,” he continued.

– “Concerned Families” –

However, a CP teacher in Seine-Saint-Denis confides her fears to AFP: “We don’t want to relive last year’s absence replacements. It has harmed the students too much. Currently, our school is doing well, all the teachers are there. Fingers crossed”.

To remedy the teacher shortage, National Education has recruited contract teachers – 3,000 according to Pap Ndiaye – who are trained in a few days before standing in front of a class.

But there are great concerns on the part of both the parents of students and the trade unions.

Parents fear “an explosive return to school,” Nageate Belahcen, co-chair of the FCPE, the first federation of student parents, told AFP. “Not replacing absent teachers, under-trained indentured workers, or high school math… Families are concerned,” she said.

The unions denounce them as “a tinkering” in recruiting contract workers during the summer.

“The promise of + a teacher for every student + looks more like a political slogan than reality,” said Sophie Vénétitay, general secretary of Snes-FSU, the first secondary union, this week.

This union launched the keyword #NotreVraieRentrée to collect testimonials within the establishments.

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