Primary school teachers in France took to the streets this week to protest the government's plan to keep primary schools open five days a week instead of the current four. Newly-sworn in President FranÃ§ois Hollande made the pledge to expand the school week during his election campaign to add a half-day of classes at all primary schools on Wednesday while shortening the length of the other four days.
He said that the change was necessary because children were falling behind their international peers due to having excessively long school days. French schools have some of the shortest academic years of any country but have some of the longest school days in the world.
Teachers are especially unhappy with the proposal:
But teachers are worried that the extra half day – due to be introduced as from September this year – will add to what they see as their already heavy workload without any financial gain. Jerome Lambert of the teachers' union SNUipp-FSU noted that teachers, a majority of whom are Socialist supporters, were "disappointed" by what he said was a reform that in reality was no more than window-dressing.
"We need to reopen the debate," he said.
Some teachers are worried that the government won't go through with the promise to add and fund sports or cultural activities to make up for the shorter school days. However, any new programs would require additional funding and possibly hiring more staff to supervise, and many French schools are dealing with very tight budgets as it is. Although adding additional activities is part of Hollande's plan, there has – as yet – been no indication on how such activities might be funded.
A mid-week break at French schools has been in place since the 19th century. For working parents who lack childcare options on Wednesdays, there are state-funded "leisure centers" that for a low fee keep an eye on students mid-week and provide activities to keep them busy.
Following his election in May, Hollande vowed to make education a key focus of his five-year term.
He proposed reducing the number of students forced to repeat grades, increasing teacher levels, schooling children at younger ages in disadvantaged areas and boosting measures to fight absenteeism.
Meanwhile, the schools remain shut with teachers announcing a strike over the proposed plan. A march against the changes is scheduled for later this week, and there is no indication when the industrial action might conclude.