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Illiteracy three times higher in France’s overseas territories

The French National Assembly's overseas delegation published an information report on education in Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion. While it noted some improvements, the report mainly pointed out dysfunctional... buildings.

Published: June 7, 2021, 2:18 pm

    According to a parliamentary report, dilapidated buildings, transport problems, lack of resources, and a high drop-out rate have marked French education outside France. The National Assembly’s overseas delegation published an information report on education in overseas territories. The text, which focuses on Reunion, Martinique and Guadeloupe – all with large African populations – provides an inventory and suggests solutions to remedy the problems specific to these schools.

    “The first challenge is to overcome illiteracy,” the deputy of Réunion David Lorion, one of the authors of the report noted. An illiterate is a person who, although educated in France, has not mastered the French language. Illiteracy is largely over-represented in overseas territories. According to the latest data available, in 2019, 11,8 percent of young people aged 16 to 26 encountered difficulties in the field of reading in France. In Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion, this rate is an alarming 30 percent.

    To try to stem the problem, the deputies proposed to include regional languages, in particular Creole.

    As a reminder in Reunion, 30 percent of children have Reunion Creole as their mother tongue at home. These languages can be used as a vehicle for learning French and are said to be an asset against illiteracy. However, according to the deputies, appropriate material must be made available to teachers, in particular bilingual textbooks.

    Students in Martinique, Guadeloupe and Reunion have fewer school days per year than others. The causes are multiple, as Cécile Rilhac, one of the authors noted, pointing out “absences linked to recurring social conflicts, extreme climatic events, water cuts or more localized events,” which include rat control operations.

    The success rates for the 2018 general and technological baccalaureate are closer to the national average of 90 percent, with 89,4 percent in Reunion, 87,8 percent in Guadeloupe and 83,4 percent in Martinique. However, these good results are a sham: dropouts leave school before the baccalaureate, and therefore are not counted in the statistics.

    Dropping out of school remains a major problem, but it has slightly decreased thanks to specific measures, in particular help with homework. The dropout has fallen by 36 percent in Martinique and 27 percent in Reunion over the last 5 years. In Guadeloupe, school failure fell by 17 percent between 2017 and 2019.

    According to the Martinique Academy, 64 percent of students study in an environment vulnerable to earthquakes, something which has not influenced children in Japan however. In Guadeloupe, only 35 percent of schools, 34 percent of colleges and 19 percent of high schools were up to seismic standards in 2019. The report also stressed that “elementary equipment such as erasers and chalk were lacking” and that “most establishments should be asbestos free”.

    The digital equipment in the establishments is, according to the report, insufficient. Some 22 percent of students in Martinique do not have access to it in their establishment. Digital inequality, which plays out in the classroom but also at home, was revealed during the health crisis, they say. At least 25 percent of Martinican students were unable to benefit from educational continuity because they did not have a computer at home, against only 5 percent in France.

    MEPs insisted on the issue of transport. In Martinique, the school bus service of several establishments, at different times, is done at the same time. The consequence of this is long days for the students, who arrive at their school well before the start of classes and leave after their end. There is also the question of the cost of transport which is particularly high for students who have to take a boat trip to get to class. It was cited as a cause of absenteeism.

    The price of school supplies is also a problem. According to the deputies, it is “three times higher than in France”  in the territories. And these prices are increasing, a survey conducted in Martinique showed an increase of 34 percent between 2019 and 2020.

    To resolve these specific difficulties, MEPs proposed measures adapted to the territories. They made dozens of various recommendations, such as overhauling the map of priority establishments, air conditioning in the buildings, providing them with a dining hall or even adapting the school calendar to climatic conditions.

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