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France’s abaya ban debate masks major issues in education system: unions

The abaya ban in schools has become a topic that has distracted other issues in France’s education system, such as a teacher shortage and overcrowded classrooms.

The government banned the abaya, a loose-fitting, full-length robe worn by Muslim students, as of Monday, when the school year started.

Out of the 12 million students nationwide, 298 of them came to school wearing an abaya despite the ban, and 67 of them refused to remove it, Education Minister Gabriel Attal said.

The abaya ban is not a fresh debate for France, but it has dominated the French news agenda for a while now and tends to occult the real problems in the education system, according to teachers’ unions.

Secretary-General of the Snes-FSU trade union, Sophie Venetitay, told broadcaster France Inter on Aug. 28 that the abaya debate was masking a lack of teachers and overcrowded classes.

President Emmanuel Macron and the minister, however, have promised that every class would have a teacher.

Staff at the most problematic schools in those terms will go on strike in the coming days to protest the lack of resources.

Teachers’ unions are also calling for better salaries.

According to a report published in 2022, the average salary of a French teacher with 15 years of experience is getting 19% less than the OECD average wage.

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