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Schools open despite covid-19: a French “exception”?  – Education

According to’Unesco, it is one of the European countries with the fewest weeks of school closures: France has closed its classes completely or temporarily for ten weeks since March 2020, a period corresponding to the first confinement which included two weeks of school holidays. .

It is much less than its neighbors: Italy, affected very early on by the pandemic, for its part, closed its 30 weeks, completely or partially. To date, Spain has totaled 15 weeks of closure, like Belgium; Germany, 24 weeks, and the United Kingdom, 26.

Only a few countries have fewer days of closure than France: six weeks in Switzerland and Iceland.

” Last resort “

Since last summer, the government’s rhetoric has not changed: schools should only close as a “last resort”. And this, despite the alerts of several scientists on the risks of contamination in schools.

“The school is not an adjustment variable”, insists Jean-Michel Blanquer, Minister of National Education, being the herald of this will shared at the top of the State. “It is true that it is becoming an exception in France, but there is every reason to be proud of it”, he congratulated himself on Tuesday, on France Inter. “This crisis can be an educational disaster, I’m trying to avoid that in France,” he added.

The fact that the covid-19 epidemic can wreak havoc outside the health plan pushes France to hold out “as long as possible on this ridge line, which consists of maintaining learning at school, while ensuring all of them have health protection ”, we say in those around him.

“The emerging consensus is that schools do not seem to be amplifiers of transmission (of the virus, editor’s note) and that the cases in schools simply reflect the prevalence within the community”, recently estimated several epidemiologists , including Arnaud Fontanet, member of the Scientific Council, in the British medical journal “BMJ”.

Mandatory mask wearing since November

Since the start of the school year in September, the country has managed to keep its establishments open, not without having imposed wearing a mask from primary school in November or “hybridization” in high school, that is to say a mixture of face-to-face and distance learning. “We are able to decide on targeted closures when several cases are detected”, also recalled Jean-Michel Blanquer.

If the unions deplore an insufficient health protocol in the face of the deterioration of the situation, no one wishes to relive the episode of “distance school” last spring. “France stands out for its stated desire to keep its schools open as much as possible,” notes Alain Bouvier, former editor-in-chief of the “Revue internationale d’études de Sèvres”, which compares educational policies around the world. “At the other end of the spectrum, we have New Zealand, which, in order to completely eradicate covid, does not hesitate to take radical and immediate decisions to shut down. And in the middle, many cases, with countries which can decide to close certain levels or in certain regions only, ”he continues.

The direct

“A sanctuary to protect”

How to explain this French “exception”? “By the role of school in the history of the country”, underlines the historian of education Claude Lelièvre. “Since the French Revolution, the institution has been totally overinvested, it has been given an almost demiurgic role. Whenever an important problem arises, it is felt that it is up to her to solve it.

According to him, the school has become “a sanctuary that must be protected”. So “taking the risk of leaving establishments open does not offend our collective unconscious”.

“This desire to leave schools open at all costs is quite unique in Europe, even if in all countries there is a conflict between health objectives and educational issues”, also judges Éric Charbonnier, education analyst at the OECD .

It must be said that France is one of the countries where educational inequalities are the strongest. “All the studies show that they worsened during the first confinement,” he recalls. The country is therefore now facing a major challenge: not to dig them further.

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