French values key to fight against radical islamism, Hollande tells teachers

France's Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem
France's Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

In a bid to combat radical islamism following the recent terrorist attacks, French schools are being asked to do more to help young people understand the fundamental values and principles of the French state.


In an address to teachers yesterday, French president François Hollande outlined new measures to be introduced, putting more emphasis on the values underpinning France.


The day after 12 people were killed at Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, the government declared that 2 minutes silence should be observed around the country, including in schools, to mark the gravity of a deadly attack on freedom of speech.

At least 200 incidents were reported by teachers where pupils refused to participate, walked out or reacted aggressively.

Many of these youngsters were unaware that there is no law concerning blasphemy in France.


The history and idea of laicité (roughly translated as secularism) in schools is also sometimes misunderstood.

In France, everyone is free to practise their religion but government-run schools are by law religion-free spaces.

This means that neither pupils nor teachers may wear Muslim veils, Jewish skull-caps or any other religious garments. A small Islamic crescent, Star of David or cross worn discreetly on a chain around the neck is allowed.

Muslims, Jews or Christians may wear religious scarves, skull-caps or other garments at privately-run schools for religious denominations.

Muslim veils, Jewish skull-caps and other religious garments can be worn on the streets and in public but the burqa, niqab or other face-covering veils are banned everywhere outside the home in France.

The principle of keeping religion out of schools was introduced in 1905 in a bid to limit the influence of the Catholic Church, which at the time was relatively powerful in France.

It is a principle which is cherished by politicians on both the left and right of the political spectrum.

France has absorbed many immigrants of different religions over the years who have conformed to the principle.

However, Laïcité sometimes creates dilemmas …

Among recent problems is the question of whether or not to allow mothers wearing Muslim veils to accompany teachers on school trips (parents are often asked to volunteer to meet the required ratio of adults to children for insurance purposes.)

While some politicians want flexibility in these areas, others feel that laïcité must not be compromised in any way.

Hollande announced the creation of a new Journée de la Laïcité (Secularity Day) when schools will focus on the concept and its importance in France.

From now on, parents enrolling their children in government-run schools will also be asked to sign the Laïcité charter which has been posted in school buildings since 2014.


Some schools have turned a blind eye to girls being withdrawn by their parents from swimming lessons at school. Treating boys and girls unequally is against France’s democratic values and Hollande suggested that in the future it will no longer be tolerated.

“Every incident will be dealt with. Every time that dignity or equality between boys and girls is questioned, that there is pressure, that there are utterances which challenge a fundamental value of the schools of the French republic, there will be a response,” Hollande declared.


In the past, teachers have also reported difficulties in teaching about the Holocaust with some youngsters. Holocaust denial is illegal in France.

In his address yesterday, Hollande announced that civic and moral education; explaining the rights and duties of citizens and combating prejudice and hate, is to be beefed up in schools.

France's education minister, Moroccan-born Vallaud-Belkacem grew up in a tough Lyon suburb and is often held up as a symbol of successful integration.

Last week, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, she suggested that some youngsters of immigrant background did not feel fully part of the French nation and said that more needed to be done "to close the gap that too many students experience between the principles of the republic on the one hand and their daily reality on the other".



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