At the end of the corridor, on the first floor of La Grange-aux-Belles college, is the “class of the whole world”. Placed at the entrance, the simplest of greetings are available in Soninke, Fulani, Arabic and English. ” Hello “ is of course also written in French, a language that these college students from elsewhere will have to master at full speed.
“Hello”, which for some is one of the few familiar words when they first push the door of this room, crossed out with four letters: ENSA. This acronym, as there are so many in the jargonous maquis of national education, refers to a very specific situation, that of “students not previously educated”, at least little or poorly educated before.
At first glance, this room looks like its neighbors. But there are these walls where the days of the week follow one another in large letters to make it easier to write the date on the board, a ritual that evokes the atmosphere of the primary school. Striking too, in this space of 50 m2, the number of students: just five at the start of the year, joined since by two others.
“A smaller workforce than in previous years”, notes Naïma Kerrouche, the teacher who takes care of them on a daily basis, alone or in co-animation with the math or English teacher. This group is currently very small “Because by closing the borders to slow the spread of the virus, we have also slowed down migratory flows”, analyzes the professor.
Students in hostels or social hotels
Surprisingly, each desk has small cardboard boxes in which everyone leaves their belongings at the end of the day. “At home, that is to say sometimes in a hostel or social hotel, some do not have where to store textbooks and binders. And then, they don’t always think of bringing them back ”, Naïma Kerrouche indicates.
For those who have hardly ever been to school in the past, the challenge is first to learn the “job” of a pupil. A successful apprenticeship if we judge by the studious atmosphere that reigns at each of our visits. And this, even if there are also hiccups, as at the end of November, where Yaya, who had joined the group a week before, knocks on the door at the stroke of 11 o’clock, a good two hours after the arrival of his friends…
Dressed in a jacket with the strange slogan “Paris impossible”, the boy, little French speaking even though he arrives from Ivory Coast, suggests, as best he can, that he could not read it. ‘timetable. An argument already advanced the previous week to excuse a similar delay.
From the other end of the class, a voice bursts out, reminding us that any unjustified absence gives rise to an hour of glue. “We can’t do that to him, he just arrived”, Naïma Kerrouche slice. This time again, indulgence, patience and pedagogy prevail. Admittedly, the teacher suspects a form of bluff but when in doubt, she explains to the latecomer the way in which the double entry table summarizing her schedule is read.
A year walking the roads from Afghanistan
On this day, as often, the emphasis is on learning French. With a differentiated approach, not to say personalized. With a affable smile and expertly discolored locks, Salim is the oldest of the group. Fifteen years officially, and maybe a little more. This isolated minor, now supported by the France Terre Asile association, walked for a whole year from Afghanistan. With a fixed idea, he assures: ” Go to school. “ And it is with voluntarism, even with pleasure, that today he copies letters and syllables in his notebook and trains himself to read them aloud as would a child of first grade.
Not easy to pronounce the vowels. Never mind, Naïma Kerrouche, who has long taught French as a foreign language at the university, takes off her fabric mask to place a transparent mask on her face, which has just been distributed to teachers. Under the plexi, to the point of exaggeration, she twists her mouth to show Salim, amused, the shape of the lips when you let go of an “a”, an “i”, an “e” …
Other students took out their slates for a dictation of words. And then there is the quarter of an hour of daily reading, an operation in which all the college students of La Grange-aux-Belles participate, including the ENSAs. Naïma Kerrouche has placed on her desk, at their disposal, a series of books, from illustrated books for toddlers to Roman de Renart, through a tourist guide dedicated to the capital.
“College, my second home”
A guide that Ali quickly took hold of. After leaving Kuwait, his country of birth where he was stateless, and after spending a few years in Denmark, the boy arrived with his parents two years ago in Paris. Over the pages, with a sparkling eye, and as if consolidated in his new identity as a Parisian, he finds the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the town hall … So many places that are familiar to him, on the contrary from the table The Mona Lisa, which doesn’t tell him anything at all.
“Some people just look at the pictures”, notes Naïma Kerrouche, who will take her students to explore the CDI a few hours later. “The main thing is that they get used to having a book in their satchel. “
Habit recently taken by Founé, long braids and sharing joy. Entering her second year in ENSA, this young girl born in Senegal has just had the click. The one who dreams of being a doctor now manages to read and she intends to take advantage of it, including “Help” members of his entourage who are not so lucky. “College is my second home”, she exclaims, also aware that the desire to offer her a good education counted a lot in her family’s migratory project.
This enthusiasm has not always been unanimous. “I remember a student who had only one desire, to return to her native country, Montenegro, resumes Naïma. It is hard for a child who has not chosen it to have to learn another language. “
“The teacher does not hit us”
Rashedul spontaneously said he liked the French school. And give a good reason: “The teacher does not hit us”, argues this student who fled with his mother Bangladesh in conditions that he prefers to keep silent. Terrible words echoed naturally by other students from different countries.
At the French school, you don’t knock. On the contrary, as the principal assistant, Cécile Conty underlines, “We do everything to enhance the ENSA, allow them to gain confidence, also to learn French in less academic situations”. As on this day in September when Rashedul and his comrades have the privilege of harvesting the apples which ripened at the entrance of the college. “An opportunity to expand their vocabulary while preparing juice, compote and cakes. “
Next year, some will join, still at La Grange-aux-Belles, another unit for newcomers, more advanced those, and which serves as an airlock towards ordinary schooling. Others, older, will go to a vocational school. Naïma Kerrouche knows this from experience, “Only those who have really learned to read and write will succeed”. And a school year is not always enough to work miracles.
Schooling of allophone students
When they arrive in the French education system, allophone students are generally enrolled in an ordinary class corresponding to their level of education, in theory without exceeding an age gap of more than two years.
They can be educated in part or entirely in a support system:
> The “ENSA” classes (“previously unschooled students”) allow students who received very little or no education before their arrival in France and who are old enough to attend college to learn French and acquire the knowledge of base corresponding to the end of the elementary school cycle.
> The “pedagogical units for newcomer allophone students” (UPE2A) aim to support – essentially linguistically – newcomer students included in ordinary classes and who have previously experienced normal schooling.
According to the latest figures communicated by the national education system, in 2017 2018 France had just over 64,000 allophone students.