Women on the front line (3/3): For those teaching remotely, much of the job is reassuring parents
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Schools have been closed in France since a nationwide lockdown began in mid-March. Almost 70 percent of primary and secondary teachers are women, and FRANCE 24 spoke to a group who are determined to keep teaching – even if they are not in the classroom.
For Émilie Bocqueho, a teacher in the Paris suburb of Châtillon, the first week of lockdown was "chaotic". With 2-year-old twins at home, she had to work out a tight schedule.
"There is so much anxiety associated with this way of teaching. I had to imagine how it would work so that it would be fair to my partner," she explained. So she organised online lessons during her children's naps and late at night for her class of 24 primary school students.
Bocqueho wanted to maintain some sort of classroom life for her pupils, who are just learning to read and write at ages 5 to 6 years old. This required taking a vastly different approach to education by making the most of online platforms and digital work spaces.
"It is stressful," said Angeline Chambost, an earth sciences teacher in a private high school in Val-d'Oise north of Paris. She found practical work to be essential, to "make up for the lack of interactivity”.
Chambost opted for video-conference sessions, but with anywhere from between 29 to 35 students, it was far from easy to maintain their attention and a rhythm.
"This is really where you realise the importance of the relationship between teacher and student," said Chambost, who has been in the profession for more than 30 years.
For Julie Beretti, a teacher working at a centre for children with intellectual disabilities, the staff had to act quickly to ensure continuity in educational support for her group of 12 students.
"It was brutal, I had to provide a lot of material for the parents," she said. "When they replace us it's really not easy."
For Beretti, a large part of the job is now constantly reassuring parents either by email or phone. Indeed, for many parents, home-schooling has become synonymous with stress.
"I had a single mother of two daughters who sent me a lot of emails because her daughter was telling her that she could not understand her mother’s instructions," said Sophie*, a teacher in a primary school located in a poorer district of northeastern Paris.
The key factor, Sophie said, was not to overload the parents and to instead focus on revising existing work.
"I think it’s crazy to ask parents to teach new ideas to their children," she said. At her school it became necessary to lend laptops and iPads to families who did not have them while also explaining how to use them. In France, one in three people lack basic digital skills.
When phone calls and emails were not enough, parents could come to the school itself to be trained in how to use computers. "Sometimes we get older siblings to translate and explain the instructions," Sophie said.
Meanwhile, teachers from a school in Villejuif on the outskirts of Paris took it upon themselves to produce "explanatory sheets in seven languages”, said Bocqueho.
Although most pupils seem to be succeeding with remote learning, there are still a few students whom teachers have been unable to reach. The French minister of education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said there had been a 5 to 8 percent rise in dropouts since the start of the lockdown.
Chambost said while only a few of her students had dropped out, she believed just a third of her class is diligent.
"The problem is that we have no word from those who have dropped out," she said. "The silence is disturbing."
Such concerns have also prompted Bocqueho to do more than call parents and issue homework assignments. Each week, she insists on talking to the children.
"I want them to tell me how they live in lockdown. I always have, at the back of my mind, the fear of child abuse," she said.
It's a very real risk, according to government figures published earlier this month. The emergency number for violence against children has seen the number of calls increase by 20 percent since the lockdown began. For Émilie Schaub, a teacher at a vocational high school in Vendée in western France, this experience has taught her a lot about "how young people live at home”.
So far, it has mainly been mothers who are picking up the educational slack. According to a study conducted for the French minister for gender equality, Marlène Schiappa, 58 percent of women feel they spend more time than their spouses performing household and educational tasks.
"I call dads as much as mums and they usually refer me to their partners," Bocqueho said, noting that of her 24 students only four dads are in charge of home-schooling.
While President Emmanuel Macron has announced that school will open gradually starting on May 11, Chambost remains doubtful.
"In my high school, I have classes of 37 students. How can you ensure social distancing?”
* Last name withheld.
This article has been translated from the original in French.
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