France's Macron criticised for comparing striking teachers to hostage takers

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France's Macron criticised for comparing striking teachers to hostage takers
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French President Emmanuel Macron has come under criticism for comparing striking teachers to "hostage takers", as they blocked the results of the French high school exam to protest against a new education reform.

The teachers, Macron said on Sunday night, "cannot take children and their families as hostages" in their strike.

The French government v. high school teachers

The strike has turned into an arm-wrestling match between teachers and the Education ministry after some high school teachers refused to communicate the exam results of their students. The move was intended to put pressure on the government and force the re-opening of negotiations around the new high school education reform.

In some cases, teachers have also declined to send back the physical copies of their students' essays.

The reform will end the traditional three "paths" of high school education, with majors in science, economics and literature, to develop more personalised class choices. But teachers have warned that the new programmes are too dense, which raises the risk of students failing halfway through high school.

They also warn that the new system will lead to some classes being picked more than others, in turn leading to overcrowded classes. This, depending on the school's budget and resources, could lead to inequalities between students of different schools, teachers say.

As the strike unfolded over the past week, Education MinisterJean-Michel Blanquer decided that the overall annual results may be taken into account to calculate a student's average in the French high school exam, the baccalaureate, when results were missing.

In the baccalaureate, commonly called "le bac", a student must achieve an average of 10 to pass. Previous results of the student's senior year of high school do not count in the "bac" average, although they are considered in the student's university application.

High school teachers have opposed Blanquer's decision to change the average rule to include previous results, arguing it defeats the purpose of the equality principle of the baccalaureate exam -- the fact that all students take the same exam on the same day, and receive results based on that work only.

"I respect everyone and their freedom of opinion as well as the freedom of the trade unions, but in the end, [teachers] cannot take children and their families as hostages", Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday. He added that he thought that Blanquer had had "a good reaction" in deciding to change the average rule.

Macron's comment? "Misplaced" and "shocking" for teachers

Many teachers and education specialists disagreed. The secretary-general of the French union for high school teachers SENS-FSU, Frédérique Rolet, told French media that the president's comments were "misplaced": "This movement that high school teachers have been forced to undertake stems from months of mobilisation and a total lack of attentiveness from the Education ministry", she said.

Teachers have shared their anger on social media. Some were particularly shocked at Macron's comparison with hostage takers, four years after France became the target of violent terrorist attacks in 2015.

A high school teacher wrote on Twitter that he was the Paris attacks survivor and was at the Bataclan venue on 13 November 2015, where 131 people died after terrorists entered during a concert and started shooting at the crowd.

"Mr Macron, I am one of the Bataclan survivors and I am one of the striking teachers blocking the results and essays of the bac", he wrote. "Your use of the words 'hostage takers' to describe this strike shocks and hurts me." He called for the president to apologise.

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