Paris teachers rebel against Socialists’ school reform
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A majority of teachers in Paris, who voted in droves for François Hollande last year, went on strike on Tuesday to protest against government plans to add a half-day to the school week.
A majority of primary schools were closed on Tuesday in the French capital, as angry Paris-region teachers went on strike to protest against President François Hollande’s first major reform to the country’s school system.
The measure, which calls for reducing the amount of class time during the school day and adding an additional half-day on Wednesday, would go into effect in September 2013. In the current system, French primary schools operate on a four-day schedule, with no classes on Wednesday.
Striking teachers say the reform does nothing to improve the quality of education for children, and will simply force teachers to spend more time at the workplace with no compensation.
“I personally did not expect much from Hollande, but a lot of fellow teachers are very disappointed,” said Laurent, a teacher in Paris's 13th district and a member of the SNUipp union on strike. “What the Socialist government is offering has nothing to do with the big promises that were made. Nothing they’re offering is good.”
Teachers overwhelmingly voted in favour of Hollande in last year’s presidential election, encouraged by the Socialist candidate’s promise to overhaul the entire school system and invest heavily in education.
On Tuesday, hundreds of teachers were set to join a massive march that will end at Paris City Hall. Paris Mayor Paris Bertrand Delanoë, a leading member of the Socialist Party, has defended the reform.
“This is the biggest teachers' mobilisation I have seen in Paris since I became a teacher. If the government does not take us into account, then it will expand across the country,” Laurent told France 24.
Socialists on the defensive
Paris’s Socialist-led government and Education Minister Vincent Peillon struck a conciliatory tone on Tuesday, acknowledging that the Paris teachers’ protest counted wide participation.
“There is an exception in Paris, and it’s regretful,” Peillon said, but quickly added that there is never “an unjustified strike”.
The reform’s proponents say less class time each day would allow pupils to participate in other cultural and sports activities. The government has pledged to assign a 250-million-euro fund to help French towns finance those extra-curricular activities.
“We’re going to discuss the issue [with teachers]. You know, in France reforms are always difficult to implement, but we are going to do it though dialogue and consultation,” Paris deputy mayor Anne Hidalgo, told RTL radio on Tuesday.
“Held hostage” in workplace
Nevertheless, teachers said they were not convinced, claiming that rearranging the school week amounted to a quick patch-up job that failed to address the real problems they face.
They also complained they would be “held hostage” at their workplace. According to the teachers’ unions, Mayor Delanoë planned to lengthen the lunch break by one hour, in order to comply with the reform but so that pupils would be let out of school at the same time.
Teachers would be forced to spend that time, for which they are not paid, at their posts, the unions said.
“The project neglects the real problems, starting with the fact there are too many children in the classrooms, and not enough teachers with specialised training to deal with the kids with learning difficulties,” Laurent said. “The government is making a mockery of the public school system, and mocking students, teachers and parents as well.”