French pupils stage blockades to demand the cancellation of exams

French pupils stage blockades to demand the cancellation of exams
High school pupils and university students have organised several protest actions to draw attention to what the degrading situation for young people in France, due to the pandemic. Here under a protest in January, with banners reading "ghosts students", "I belong to a sacrificed generation" and "faculty closed, want to give up". Photo: Alain JOCARD / AFP
High schoolers in France this week began several days of protest action against the French government's decision to maintain some of the baccalaureate end-of-the-year exams.

As French high schools (lycées) reopened on Monday after two weeks of rescheduled Easter holidays and two of remote learning, some pupils refused to re-enter the educational establishments.

Calling for the education ministry to cancel their final exams in June after a turbulent year due to the ongoing pandemic, teenagers pushed garbage cans and other objects in front of their schools to stage un blocus (a blockade) in protest.

The protest, labelled “BacNoir” (Black Bac), denounced Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer’s decision to maintain some of the baccalaureate exams, which the protesting pupils said would “increase inequalities” caused by the Covid-19 virus.

“We are demanding the total cancellation of exams for all high schoolers,” five high school unions said in a joint statement, published on Twitter, where they asked to instead only use continuous assessment (contrôles continus) where pupils are graded based on their assessed work over the year.

Eighty-two percent of this year’s baccalaureate has already been replaced by continued evaluations.

Some 100 high schools across France faced blockades in Monday’s protests, most of which passed off without clashes.

In Aubervilliers, north of Paris, a police source confirmed to French daily Le Parisien a report that there had been fireworks thrown at police on Monday morning, but said no one was injured in the incident.

Some schools continued the protests on Tuesday morning, but the big day – according to high school unions – will be Wednesday, May 5th, when they are calling for a national day of blockades.

“For 14 months now, we have been studying in terrible conditions, with long distance learning, cancelling of classes and a lack of teachers,” the unions’ statement said.

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It added that pupils were “anxious and vulnerable, and yet they are forced to come in thousands to take their exams inside the establishments.”

Blanquer on Monday said he was “open” to making changes to the exam period, but said he remained convinced that maintaining some tests would be in the pupils’ best interest.

“We will reevaluate again so that this becomes the best possible options for the pupils,” Blanquer told Europe 1.

The government used continued evaluations last year when schools closed for months in spring as part of the first nationwide lockdown set up to halt the spread of Covid-19. During the second and third lockdowns schools largely remained open, with a rescheduled Easter holiday and two weeks of remote learning for older pupils.

Lycées have also been authorised to operate up to 50 percent of remote learning in areas with high infection rates.

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