Students in Brittany win right to sit science exams in Breton language
School students in Brittany have won the right to sit their science exams in the Breton language after refusing to take the tests in French – even if it meant failing.
Teenagers studying for their ‘Brevet’, the French equivalent to GCSEs, at six Breton-immersion ‘Diwan’ secondary schools risked receiving an automatic zero out of 20 score if they completed the papers in Breton.
But a public declaration by eleven students that they intended to complete the exam in Breton, whatever the consequences, forced the French authorities into a last minute climb down.
“We did a test paper and sometimes I didn’t properly understand the questions in French,” said Solenn Le Bouedec, one of the students, told the Ouest France newspaper.
Zoe Nicole Fraysse added: “I asked myself [if I wanted to do it] because I wasn’t sure of getting good enough marks. But in the end I’m going to do it for the cause.”
After a three month delay, the French education authority confirmed on Saturday that the exams would be marked in Breton.
That enabled around 40 students to sit the science exam in Breton today.
The students are set to receive a hero’s welcome from parents, teachers and language campaigners when they leave their exams today, with celebrations planned outside the six Diwan secondary schools.
Yann Uguen, the president of the Diwan network which also includes 47 primary schools and two sixth forms, praised the “bravery” of the students for their “heartwarming” stand.
“We thank those who have campaigned to obtain this progress in the recognition of our model for the transmission of the Breton language,” said a statement from the Diwan network.
“In particular we want to thank the young students who have put themselves in the spotlight to win this battle.”
It is the second time in four months the French authorities have been forced to lift the ban on science exams being sat in ‘regional languages’.
Nation.Cymru reported in March how French education minister, Pap Ndiaye, gave dispensation to students at four Basque-immersion schools to sit their science exam in Basque after campaigners chained themselves to the gates of the headquarters of the regional education authority.
Following that decision, Diwan schools sought confirmation the same rule would be applied to Breton but didn’t receive confirmation that would be the case until 48 hours before the exams began, causing problems for students in preparing for the exams.
The ‘Brevet’ includes four compulsory subjects: French, mathematics, history and geography, and sciences.
Students are allowed to sit the maths and history and geography exams in ‘regional languages’ such as Breton, Basque, Catalan, Occitan,
But French was made compulsory for the science exam in 2017 by former education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, who claimed there is a “social risk behind immersion” in “regional languages.”
Language campaigners now want the French Government to turn the temporary dispensation given to Basque and Breton students into a law giving all students the right to sit exams in ‘regional languages’.
Campaigners point out the dispensation only applies to students in immersion schooling and not students in bilingual schools, and the ban still applies to exams part of the Baccalaureate, the equivalent to A-levels.
The policy has led to many students receiving exam results which don’t reflect their abilities.
“I have two children. They don’t have exams this year but last year my oldest daughter did the Brevet in Basque,” said Peio Jorajuria, the president of the Seaska schools association.
“All year she had incredible marks and in the science exam she received 2 out of 20. When the exam was marked in Basque, she received 17 out of 20.”
France remains one of the few countries in western Europe not to have signed the European Convention for the protection of minority languages.
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