Eyewitness

October 27, 2000

France is introducing educational measures to help its overseas departments and territories - those previously often neglected areas scattered across the globe that chose to remain French rather than claim independence.

The departements, located between 6,700 and 16,740km from Paris, have little in common, except for their French identity and high unemployment and birth rates; almost half their collective populations are aged 20 or under.

In 1996, Guianese lycee pupils rioted against school conditions. When Lionel Jospin became prime minister the following year he promised an educational rescue plan for all departements, and baccalaureat results improved.

Last week, education minister Jack Lang and overseas minister Christian Paul announced further measures.

Funds are pouring in for school building and more than 5,000 teaching posts have been created, notably in Reunion and French Guiana, where populations have risen dramatically over the past decade.

Mr Lang decided to adapt the national curriculum and encourage the development of regional languages.

Roy Carr-Hill, professor of education and development at the Institute of Education, London University, suggested the moves were a response to a combination of political pressure and embarrassment at the poor performance of French language teaching in its overseas departments and territories.

"I can see no obvious reason for the initiative, and it is likely that the higher education plans have a different motivation."

Plans for higher education and research will take advantage of contacts with neighbouring countries. New research centres in Guadeloupe, Martinique and Guiana will focus on Caribbean and South American themes. An international centre of pedagogical studies will be set up in Reunion to train French teachers and education officials from nearby African and Indian Ocean countries. First-year medical studies will be introduced at Noumea University, New Caledonia, through partnership with a Paris teaching hospital.

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