‘I’d put the person back into teaching’
Séverine Marcou has been teaching children with learning difficulties in Picardie, northeastern France, for the past ten years. In a town that made headlines in recent years because of an increase in gang violence, and a region where the teenage pregnancy rate is one of the highest in France, the schools where Séverine teaches are far from the Parisian primaires where the leading presidential candidates were educated.
Séverine says she hasn’t decided which candidate to vote for yet, but one thing’s for sure – “We mustn’t allow the National Front party [FN] to get a second chance” – she insists, referring to the 2002 presidential election in which far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen made it to the second round. The FN enjoys an elevated level of support in Picardie (compared with elsewhere in France), and the town of Chauny, where Séverine works, is reported to harbour Nazi skinhead movements.
Perhaps without realising it, Séverine disagrees with most of the changes Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has made to national education over the past five years. She tells us why.
Teaching cuts and Saturday school
“My job is to teach children to learn,” Séverine explains. The government has cut 80,000 teaching posts over the past five years. In September, further reductions will see some 2,500 teachers like Séverine (who deal specifically with learning difficulties), disappear from the classroom. At the same time, French children have lost one day in the classroom, after the government ditched Saturday lessons in 2007, leaving only four (albeit long) school days per week, with Wednesday remaining a day off. While many teachers were relieved to get a Saturday lie-in, Séverine is hoping for the return of a fifth day.
In 2010, Sarkozy sparked a controversy when he suggested that French children should start learning English from the age of three. Séverine believes that while French children may be put at a disadvantage compared to their multilingual European neighbours, they need to learn to speak French before they start to learn English.
A team effort?
French austerity measures have frozen salaries like Séverine’s for the past two years. Not only - French teachers get paid a basic wage 20% smaller than their German counterparts. But Séverine says she is happy to do her bit during the financial crisis. She just wishes everybody else was…
If Séverine were president…
Séverine argues that teachers and other public servants have been forced to place too much importance on statistics. Her only wish: for teachers, politicians and society in general to “think of people before they think of grades, money and success”.