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French teachers to get pay rise, pupils Arabic lessons

French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem speaks with a schoolchild as she visits an elementary school in Blois.
French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem speaks with a schoolchild as she visits an elementary school in Blois. AFP PHOTO/Guillaume Souvant

France's Education minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has announced plans to boost teachers' pay in a bid to make their profession more attractive. Belkacem also wants school kids to become more fluent in foreign languages. However, one language in particular- Arabic - has sparked controversy.

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One billion euros is the amount the government is promising to try and tackle France's dearth of teachers by 2020.

Staff in the country's infamous "priority education zones", on the outskirts of Paris and other big cities are likely to benefit most from the promised pay rise.

And so will the struggling education system which needs the best teachers. Because of the difficult conditions in these areas few dare apply to schools there.

"We were well behind other OECD countries," Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told French TV station BFM on Tuesday. "I want our treatment of teachers from now on to top the country rankings," she said.

Up until now, French teachers seem to have received the short end of the stick when it comes to pay. 

They earn just under 30,000 euros per year, a fairly modest amount when compared with countries like Switzerland where the average salary is over 60,000 euros.

So, once this plan gets underway from next year, teachers - especially those just starting out - can expect to earn an extra 1,400 euros on top of their annual salary.

This bout of good news has been overshadowed by a growing controversy over the teaching of Arabic to primary school kids.

The government wants Arabic to be among the language choices for school kids as young as 6. But some deputies aren't happy.

Republicains deputy Annie Genevard last week said she regretted the introduction of "communutarian languages" in schools, even going so far as to equate the teaching of Arabic with a sort of "islamic indoctrination" that could threaten "national unity".

Education minister Belkacem dismissed these claims as total nonsense. She argues that Arabic is the official language of 26 states in Africa and the Arabic peninsula, and hardly constitutes a threat.

"Arabic will be taught in primary schools if the human resources are there, and if, of course parents ask for it," she said.

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