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EDUCATION

‘Black Tuesday’: French high school students hit the streets in protest again

Up to 450 high schools (lycées) across France will be totally or partially closed on Tuesday as high school students across the country prepare to protest against the government’s recent education reforms.

'Black Tuesday': French high school students hit the streets in protest again
High school students run away from tear gas during last week's protest in Mulhouse. Photos: AFP

French student union UNL-SD has told the government to expect December 11 to be remembered as a “black Tuesday” (Mardi Noir)  in the history books, with another round of student protests called in city centres across l’Héxagone. 

France’s Ministry of Education believes 10 percent of lycées (French secondary and high schools) will be affected by the call to protest, around 450 institutions. 

Fifty of them have been totally blockaded to prevent pupils who aren’t protesting from going to class. High school students are being encouraged to mobilise again “by whatever means possible, including barricades and occupations,” as UNL-SD’s newsletter reads.

By 9am on Tuesday, Twitter was already awash with videos showing student protests across France such as the following, with the hashtag #mardinoir trending. 

 

Last Tuesday saw educational facilities in Versailles, Créteil and Marseille affected and there were student protests in Lyon and in the eastern city of Mulhouse where police fired tear gas into the crowds of demonstrators. A lycée in Toulouse was set on fire. In Le Havre, 17 minors who were protesting were placed under police custody. 

The protest movement shows no signs of subsiding and this “mardi noir” it’s expected to spread West across France. 

Last week there was an outcry in France when students were pictured kneeling in front of police with the hands on their heads after being arrested follwing trouble in the town of Mantes-la-Jolie.

Videos of French high-school pupils forced to kneel by police cause uproar

 

Students oppose the government's recent education reforms of the Baccalaureate and of the lycée (the last three years of secondary school) which are currently being implemented.

Before their final year students will now choose two specific “major” subjects as well as two “minors” alongside the standard curriculum.

And instead of being based purely on results in the final exams, the new Bac grade would incorporate marks and test results obtained throughout the two final years of school.

The reforms aim to orientate students toward specific degrees sooner and to eliminate the three broad subject choices — science, literature or social sciences. 

The high school demos come at a time when France is engulfed by the ‘yellow vests’ protest movement, spurring some commentators to see these student protests as just teenagers jumping on the bandwagon of general discontent in Macron’s divided France.

“There are many reasons why we're protesting but our anger comes from the same place as the yellow vests and the government has made some really destructive reforms. It's in our interest to be on their side,” president of the UNL student union Louis Boyard told French media.

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EDUCATION

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules

Around three-quarters of French teachers plan to go on strike onThursday to protest the government's shifting rules on Covid testing for students, forcing the closure of half the country's primary schools, a union said Tuesday.

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

The strike led by the Snuipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers, comes after the latest of several changes on testing and isolation requirements for potential Covid cases announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex late Monday.

After seeing long lines of parents outside pharmacies and labs in recent days to test children in classes where a case was detected, Castex said home tests could now be used to determine if a student could return to school.

But teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable with the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

“Students cannot learn properly because attendance varies wildly, and a hybrid of in-house and distance learning is impossible to put in place,” the Snuipp-FSU said, adding that absent teachers are not being replaced.

It is also demanding the government provide facemasks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated.

“Not only does the current protocol not protect students, staff or their families, it has completely disorganised schools,” the union said, claiming that classes have effectively been turned into “daycare centres.”

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said the government is doing everything possible to avoid outright school closures that could cause havoc for parents and jeopardise learning for thousands, especially those in low-income families.

“I know there is a lot of fatigue, of anxiety… but you don’t go on strike against a virus,” Blanquer told BFM television on Tuesday.

As of Monday some 10,000 classes had been shut nationwide because of Covid cases, representing around two percent of all primary school classes, Blanquer said.

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