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Covid-19: keeping schools open, a French “exception”



“A French exception [dont] there is every reason to be proud. “ This is how Jean-Michel Blanquer commented, Tuesday, March 2, on France Inter, the strategy of keeping schools open since September, where many countries have chosen, at one time or another, to re-define children. and adolescents. Historian Claude Lelièvre thus calculated that in one year, France had closed its primary schools for only 10 weeks, at the start of the pandemic, against 15 in Spain, 19 in Germany and up to 38 in parts of the United States. United.

→ EXPLANATION. Covid-19: under what conditions can schools be kept open?

“The adopted strategy is, as elsewhere, the result of a trade-off between health, economics and education, but it also illustrates the weight of Jean-Michel Blanquer within the government”, observes the political scientist Stéphane Rozès, president of Cap (Advice, analyzes and perspectives). The Minister of National Education fought to preserve a maximum of “face-to-face” lessons, with the support of Emmanuel Macron.

“The school, the only cement in a fragmented landscape”

If this line was imposed, it is certainly to allow parents to work in good conditions. But it is also because the school occupies a preponderant place in the political culture in France, which is less true in a less centralized Germany or a Great Britain which leaves to the establishments a great autonomy. With us, historically, the school has played a major role in the construction of the Republic – we think in particular of the Ferry laws – and it remains loaded with symbols. “In a socially, culturally and territorially fragmented landscape, it is the only cement, Stéphane Rozès analysis. And in a health context that limits interactions, it gives individuals the feeling of being indirectly connected, through their children. “

In a country where a diploma often weighs more heavily on professional integration than elsewhere, the economic repercussions of the pandemic exacerbate educational problems. “The French have the feeling that they no longer have control over their future and this fading common projection increases the fear of downgrading for their children., considers this former pollster. A fear which, in France, seems to matter more than the fear of seeing their children bring the virus home, more marked in other countries, such as Germany. “

“French people extremely sensitive to the notion of equality”

“Here we touch on the notion of equality, to which the French are extremely sensitive”, abounds Éric Charbonnier, education expert at the OECD. Although inscribed on the pediments of schools, this republican value struggles to be embodied in the classes, as shown by the Pisa study, which compares the performance of 15-year-olds in developed countries. “When it comes to educational inequalities, France is one of the worst students. And the closure of schools during the first confinement did not help matters “, understands this specialist.

→ READ. Covid-19, a cruel indicator of educational inequalities

The results of national assessments, before and after the appearance of Covid-19, show a deterioration in results at the start of primary school, in particular among students who entered CE1 this year. Above all, they reveal a widening gap between priority education and the rest of the educational system.

“France was undoubtedly too late in terms of equipment and use of digital technology to succeed in its transition to completely distancing”, adds LR MP Patrick Hetzel. This former rector deplores “A particularly high percentage of students whose school was without news during the first confinement”. The ministry had estimated the rate of “lost to follow-up” at 5%.

In Switzerland, economic challenges assumed more openly

It is precisely these signals “Very disturbing” who convinced Emmanuel Macron not to renew the closure of schools, assures the entourage of the president. “After being cut off from their class and deprived of school monitoring, some students will never hang up”, continues the same source, mentioning the psychological aspect of the crisis but also the crucial role of the canteen which allows certain underprivileged children to have their only real meal of the day.

Even though the equation is put in slightly different terms, other countries, such as Sweden, have adopted a strategy similar to that of France. “It is exaggerated to speak of French exception, thus relativizes Bruno Suchaut, professor of educational sciences at the University of Lausanne. Switzerland has, for the most part, made the same choices as France, perhaps more openly assuming the fear of the collateral effects of a school closure on the economy. “

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“School is not a place to accelerate the pandemic”

Yann Diraison, Assistant to the Secretary General of Catholic Education

“The government made the right choice by keeping schools open. I see it as a social measure, which benefits the most disadvantaged children. A saving measure also for the economy. Of course, here and there have appeared clusters, but no more than after family meals. It will be necessary to determine whether the new variants are a game-changer. But to date, school is not a place to accelerate the pandemic. Until we prove the contrary, the establishments must remain open. The school must be the last institution to close before a possible reconfinement. “

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