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No, German classes were not replaced by Arabic at a French school

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20 Minutes, France

16 March 2019, Updated: 19 March 2019

Was the teaching of German and Alsatian replaced by Arabic and Turkish in a primary school in Alsace? That was what was hinted at by a viral post on the Facebook page Elsass Frei, which defends “the interests of the Alsatian people against French imperialism”: “At the school of Bischwiller, in French district Bas-Rhin, it is no longer possible to learn German or Alsatian. But no problem for Arabic or Turkish”, it claims.

As “proof”, the post shows a photo of a form produced by the Foch/Menuisier school district, to be completed and “returned to the school” by parents who are applying for their child to “follow during the 2019-20 school year the study of original language and culture [known as Elco] / the international study of a foreign language [known as Eile]”.

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This course offers a choice of six languages: Arabic, Croat, Turkish, Italian, Portuguese and Serb. There is no mention of German – nor of Alsatian, which has been added by hand by the person who completed the form, even though the language is not a foreign one. Contrary to the allegation of this article which was shared almost 2000 times, these classes are not substitutes for the study of other languages.

The school in question features in the list of Strasbourg schools with bilingual teaching. “In Alsace, 98% of primary-school pupils benefit from German teaching, either of 3 hours per week or within the framework of equal bilingual teaching with 12 hours in French and 12 hours in German”, confirms the Strasbourg school district body to the news outlet 20 Minutes.

The establishment in question, on holiday when we tried to reach out to them, did not respond to our questions. But the parents’ association Coordination et association de parents d’élèves de Bischwiller (Capeb) says that “Alsatian is not taught in the school but there are certainly bilingual French-German classes in years 1, 2 and 3, which are not at all threatened”.

Optional and extracurricular classes

There is a reason for this: the languages on offer under the “original language and culture” (Elco) option are extracurricular activities. “The Elco (now known as Eile) are managed within the framework of bilateral accords made by France in the 1970s with certain countries of immigration. The idea was to give children of these immigrants the chance to learn their parents’ language with the help of teachers from these countries, within the school but outside of regular school hours”, explains a source at the French ministry of education to 20 Minutes. “The form in question aims to gauge demand from families for the mentioned languages. We never considered replacing German”, adds the source. These Elco are far from new at the Bischwiller school, as the parents’ association Capeb points out: “The Elco for Turkish and Arabic have been in place for years, at the pace of one hour per week outside school hours”.

The document shared in the Facebook post itself states clearly that the proposed languages will not necessarily be on offer: “This form is a survey and does not imply that the classes demanded will be offered. An Elco/Eile class approved by the ministry of education is only created or renewed if the partner country has the means to make available a teacher.”

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