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Thursday, October 15, 1998 Published at 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK


The angry student

'Angry schools' says the banner

By BBC reporter Stephen Jessel in Paris

A nationwide day of action is taking place in France on Thursday by senior high school students protesting at staff shortages and oversize classes.

Among the tens of thousands marching through Paris is a 16-year-old girl of my acquaintance.

She goes to a lycée in central Paris which is by no means one of France's most deprived; but she's one of the strike organisers at her school, in there somewhere with a banner demanding more teachers, more classes, more resources.

She has a point. Her class has 38 pupils. Two hours of French per week have been cancelled even though there is a vital exam in the subject next summer. An hour of maths has also vanished.

The school has 1,500 pupils; there is room for 50 in the library for those who don't have classes at a given moment.


Different schools and different pupils have different demands. Many complain of timetables that may have gaps of five or six hours during a day. Others say the curriculum is overcrowded, or their buildings are in urgent need of repair.

Others again are ignoring the protests.

The girl in question has school six days a week, starting at 8am on four of those days but that isn't one of her complaints - she's more exercised that security may be compromised by the need to economise and that there isn't enough internal democracy.

There's no doubting the sincerity of the great majority of the demonstrators, nor the impossibility for the government immediately to meet so many sometimes contradictory demands.

The attitude of the teachers is one of benevolent neutrality; which is one of the reasons why - as her father - I am in broad sympathy with the 16-year-old girl in question.

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