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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Xénophobie rampante à l’école ?

by Émilie Rive

Creeping Xenophobia at School?

Translated Friday 1 February 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

Keeping files on people. The “pupil bases” file was intended, among other things, to establish a list of foreign children, and now the school certificate documents are worrying teachers.

The government bodies that manage and organize French schools are preparing the files of the pupils who will take the national school certificate exam in June. All pupils in France take this exam at school at the end of ninth grade. It gives pupils an opportunity to find out what a major exam is like, to take stock of what they have learned, and it boosts their self-esteem when they pass. To take the exam, the pupil (age 14, on average) and his legal guardian must validate a document issued by the ministry of education and filled out by the school, and which confirms the pupil’s enrollment for the exam. This year, a particularity has shaken up some teachers and parents of pupils: Opposite a question on nationality, exam candidates are classed as “French” or “foreign.” That’s enough to raise fears that foreign children will be stigmatized, all the more so as their nationality is not yet settled at that age.

“The question of nationality only concerns French nationals and young people who are dual nationals with the French nationality coming first,” is what the authorities say at the Seine-Saint Denis school management and organization service. "It’s because at age 16 they will be concerned by the preparation for national service and their papers have to be in order for that. There’s no question of misusing these data, which are purely administrative in nature and will stay inside the ministry of education.”

Compared with last year, there are two additions to the document, one concerning the foreign languages the pupil has chosen to study, the other concerning an authorization to communicate the exam results to the press and business organizations (due to a partnership between the ministry of education and certain organizations that publish the exam results...).

All the same, in France minors are not required to possess identification papers, and the pupil’s “carnet de correspondance [1],” which includes the pupil’s photo, is all that the pupil needs to show to take the school certificate exam at school. But this has not stopped the school management and organization services from asking 9th-grade homeroom teachers to collect photocopies of the children’s identification papers, which they are to forward to the administration.

Here again the ministry of education says it is acting in good faith, so that there will not be any spelling errors on the diplomas of the successful candidates, whereas, if there are no identification papers, they go by the way a name is usually spelled.

But the thing is, in these times when the government is hunting down undocumented parents, one can understand teachers’ worry and vigilance. They see a connection between all of the above and yet another practice used to identify children, which consists in demanding that they give a social security number: undocumented parents do not have a social security number. The teachers are consequently demanding that the “nationality question” be omitted from the forms that are distributed at the beginning of the school year... And since the “pupils bases” data base program is a continuing threat, the French section of the League for the Rights of Man has launched a national petition entitled “They’re keeping files on our children, and we do give a damn about it” [2] which you will find at http://www.ldh-france.org

[1The “carnet de correspondance” is a small note-book that French pupils take to school every day and which teachers and parents/guardians use to communicate with one another about school business that concerns the pupil.

[2The original French title of the petition contains an untranslatable pun: "Nos enfants sont fichés, ne nous en fichons pas".


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