France announced new measures on Thursday aimed at helping schools combat religious extremism, racism and anti-Semitism in reaction to deadly attacks two weeks ago.
The moves, including more teacher training and civic and ethics education in the country’s secular curriculum, come after dozens of schools complained of pupils refusing to join a January 8 nationwide minute of silence for the victims.
French symbols such as the flag and national anthem will be explicitly celebrated and one day, December 9, set aside as a “Day of Secularism”. Poor pupils will receive more grants and efforts will be made to make school intakes more socially diverse.
While millions of French marched to defend freedom of expression after the killings at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, others have described its cartoons of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as offensive and rejected the “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) movement of national unity.
In an unprecedented indictment by a French leader of the country’s failure to integrate large immigrant populations from North Africa and elsewhere, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said this week the aftermath of the attacks demonstrated that a form of “social and ethnic apartheid” existed in France.
“Secularism must be applied everywhere, because that is how everyone will be able to live in peace with each other,” Valls told a news conference.
A thousand educationalists will receive training to help teachers deal with pupils’ questions on France’s secular tradition, citizenship, prejudices, with an early-warning system created to identify and deal with worrying behaviour.