French kids go back to school… without their mobile phones
Texting under the table should be a thing of the past when French children return to class Monday following a nationwide ban on mobile phones in schools.
Published: 3 September 2018 09:38 CEST
The new rule, a campaign pledge of President Emmanuel Macron, was brought in under a law passed in July which for primary and junior schools also banishes tablets and smart watches.
High schools, which teach students aged 15 to 18, can introduce partial or total bans on electronic devices as they reopen after the summer break, though this will not be obligatory.
Proponents say the law, which has prompted vigorous debate, will reduce distraction in the classroom, combat bullying, and encourage children to be
more physically active during recess.
“I think it's a good thing,” Marie-Caroline Madeleine, 41, told AFP after dropping her daughter off for the first day of middle school in Paris.
“It's a good signal that says 'school is for studying', it's not about being on your phone,” she added. “It's hard with adolescents, you can't control what they see and that's one of the things that worries me as a parent.”
Nearly 90 percent of French 12- to 17-year-olds have a mobile phone, and supporters hope the ban will limit the spread of violent and pornographic
content among children.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has hailed the legislation as “a law for the 21st century” that would improve discipline among France's 12
“Being open to technologies of the future doesn't mean we have to accept all their uses,” he said in June, as the bill was going through parliament.
But critics dismiss the measure as a public relations exercise, and predicted it will be difficult to apply.
The government has left schools to decide how to implement the new rules, recommending that they store students' phones in lockers during the day — but some schools don't have them.
Research shows that in French schools that have already banned phones, many pupils admit to breaking the rules.
Schools all over the world have struggled to adapt to the rise of pocket-sized devices as parents grow increasingly anxious about the amount of time their children spend glued to the screen.
In 2015 New York Mayor Bill de Blasio lifted a ban on phones in his city's schools on security grounds, saying parents should be allowed to stay in touch with their children.
Macron, a 40-year-old centrist, pledged widespread reforms when he was elected, and education has been no exception.
Along with the mobile phone ban, he has halved primary school class sizes in disadvantaged areas to 12 in a bid to narrow a massive gap in outcomes between children from poor families and those from wealthy ones.
On the other end of the age spectrum, a shake-up of the higher education system to make university access more selective prompted a wave of student sit-ins this year.
Despite the surge in cases registered in schools, children with Covid-19 symptoms will no longer need to provide a doctor's sick note (une attestation) to return to class, Blanquer told BFMTV on Tuesday evening.
Instead, parents will need to fill in what in French is called an attestation sur l'honneur, a written document signed by the parent, stating either that the child tested negative for the virus, or a doctor has ruled out that the child has Covid-19.
This followed a series of complaints from medical establishments across the country that they were overwhelmed with demands for sick notes and that parents were sending children with very light symptoms such as runny noses to get checked up.
According to the new rules, children who are identified as contact cases must get tested for the virus seven days after their last contact with the confirmed case. If the result comes back negative, the child can go back to class provided that a parent has provided a signed written attestation saying that the test came back negative. No proof for the test result will be required.
A child with Covid-19 symptoms can also return to class if this attestation indicates that a doctor has ruled out the virus as cause for the symptoms, without providing any proof for the medical appointment.
The new health protocol will be updated and published on the education ministry's website shortly.
Parents affected by the school closures can access to the partial unemployment scheme bolstered by the government at the beginning of the lockdown in March to help businesses foot their employees' salaries to prevent mass layoffs.
Those concerned will “benefit from income reimbursement from the first day of their stoppage of work, and at the latest until the end of the period of isolation,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Only one parent per household will be eligible for the help scheme, and only if they can document that their child's school or nursery closed down due to Covid-19, or that their child has been identified as a contact-case.
Late Tuesday, the University of Montpellier in southern France said it had suspended classes at its medical school after some 60 students tested positive after a party.
The University of Rennes in western France also suspended classes for second- and third-year medical students this week after 83 tested positive.
The government has placed 82 of the country's 101 departments on red alert, and officials in Bordeaux and Marseille this week tightened restrictions on public gatherings and retirement home visits after seeing a surge in new Covid-19 cases.