France to fully reopen schools after scrapping 4m sq distance rule

The reopen of France's schools has been accelerated on the back of continued positive news on coronavirus infection levels.

France to fully reopen schools after scrapping 4m sq distance rule
Photo: AFP

While most schools in France are now open, limits on class sizes mean that many pupils are only attending part time, while other parents have opted to keep their children at home.

However, this is set to change, after president Emmanuel Macron is his address to the nation on Sunday night declared: “As of Monday, in France and overseas French territories, nurseries, schools and secondary schools will prepare to welcome all students.”

“From June 22nd,” the president continued, “attendance will be compulsory.”

On Monday the education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer added that the rule requiring 4 m sq of space per pupils – which had dramatically limited class sizes – will be scrapped.

“The fundamental reduction is that of physical distance,” he told Europe 1. Instead of the 4m sq required until now around each child, the physical distance will be “one metre laterally between pupils”, he detailed.

“This allows us to accommodate all students.”

Schools in France closed on March 16th, the day before the nationwide lockdown began, although some local authorities in 'cluster' areas had closed their schools down earlier.

They began to reopen from May 11th, at first only primary schools.

The reopening was extended to all schools from June 2nd, but limits on class sizes – a maximum of 15 pupils in schools and 10 in nurseries – meant that many children were only attending for part of the week.

Data from June 4th showed that only around a quarter of pupils were back in school.

Since the reopening began, parents had been able to decide whether to send their children back or not, with many opting to continue home schooling.

However, from June 22nd, attendance will be compulsory again and any parents who wish to continue home schooling on a permanent basis will have to go through the process to be registered with their local authority.

The next week will be taken up with preparation time for schools as they prepare to welcome all pupils back from June 22nd.

Although it will be a brief return – schools in France break up for summer holidays on Friday, July 4th and the government has already ruled out extending the summer term or introducing extra classes.

The minister defended this decision, saying “Every day counts in the life of a student.

“The fundamental objective, and I've been saying this from the beginning, is that there should not be a break for students between March and September, which is the case in Italy. But we all know that this can create social and educational damage. Children need to go to school.”

The announcement did not concern lycée – high school – students, who are usually doing exams at this time of year – or universities, which are largely set to continue online teaching until September.

But centres de loisirs, which operate over the summer holidays proving activities and childcare, will go ahead this summer, it has been confirmed. 



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France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

The last soldiers belonging to France's Barkhane operation in Mali have now left the African country, the French chiefs of staff said on Monday.

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

French forces have been supporting Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after France and the Malian junta fell out in the wake of a military takeover.

“Today at 13H00 Paris time (1100 GMT) the final contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” the statement said.

The army had met the “major military logistics challenge” of the pull-out “in an orderly and safe fashion”, it added.

After ties ruptured between Paris and the junta that took power in Mali in August 2020, France began to withdraw its troops in February, as jihadist violence surged in the Sahel.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Why were French soldiers in Mali?

Friction developed over the junta’s delays in restoring civilian rule and escalated when Mali brought in Russian paramilitaries — personnel described by France as “mercenaries” from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.

‘Prevented caliphate’

Macron on Monday congratulated the military on its nine years in Mali, saying it had “prevented the establishment of a territorial caliphate, and fought against terrorists that attack local populations and threaten Europe”. 

Most high-ranking members of the “terrorist groups” had been “neutralised”, he said, adding that 59 French soldiers had died in Mali in total.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally based on the findings of non-governmental organisation ACLED.

In this file photo taken on December 07, 2021 shows the French flag and France-led special operations logo for the new Task Force Takuba, a multinational military mission in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled Sahel region. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

BACKGROUND: France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali

At its peak, France’s Barkhane mission had 5,100 troops among five Sahel allies, all former French colonies — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The forces have provided key support in air power, troop transport and reconnaissance. France has an air base in Niger’s capital Niamey where it has deployed drones.

After the Malian pullout, the mission will have “around 2,500” troops, Barkhane commander General Laurent Michon said last month.

The reconfigured mission will emphasise “more cooperative operations,” he said.

Frontline Niger

France will keep more than 1,000 men in Niger, where a tactical group will continue to work in partnership with the Nigerien forces.

Niger is a frontline state in the fight against jihadism as the unstable region struggles with a string of military coups.

“The democratic regression in West Africa is extremely worrying,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French MPs ahead of a trip to the region in July. 

“However, in spite of these events (and) the withdrawal from Mali, France will continue to help West African armies fight terrorist groups.”

Niger is one of the biggest recipients of French aid, receiving 143 million euros ($146 million) last year.

READ ALSO: France calls Mali’s exit from defence accords ‘unjustified’

The two sides will sign agreements for a French loan of 50 million euros and a grant of 20 million euros.

Niger, the world’s poorest country by the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index, has been badly hit by the jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and then swept to neighbouring countries.

Niger is facing insurgencies both on its western border with Mali and Burkina Faso and on its south-eastern frontier with Nigeria.

More than a thousand troops will be deployed in Niger, providing air support and training, according to French sources.

French troops are also in Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, as well as in the east of Africa, in Djibouti.

READ ALSO: Macron agrees to return Benin sculptures ‘without delay’

Macron in June asked the government and military chiefs “to rethink our overall presence on the African continent by the autumn.”

He called for “a presence that is less static and less exposed” and “a closer relationship” with African armed forces.