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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (May 29, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---New Caledonia's local education officials are currently working on a reform measure designed to remedy a current shortage of an estimated 200 primary school teachers, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

On January 1, 2000, primary schools become the first government sector to be handed over to local authorities from metropolitan France, as part of the implementation the Nouméa Accord.

There are approximately 26,000 primary school pupils and 1,300 teachers in the public primary education sector.

Under the transfer of powers, France is providing financial assistance for implementation of the reform.

Although the transfer that started last year is considered to be progressing smoothly, the main concern is the number of teachers available.

"Until then, we had three different training schemes. This had to stop. Teachers need to feel valuable and to identify with one single curriculum," New Caledonia’s Director of Education Joël Viratelle said, adding that the new curriculum also takes into account New Caledonia’s cultural and linguistic requirements.

The plan, which is still under development, calls for the territory’s Teachers College (Institut de Formation des Maîtres de Nouvelle-Calédonie -IFMNC), to be upgraded and to increase the number of trained primary school teachers.

Viratelle said part of the new plan will be, by way of internal promotions, to give more local people primary teaching posts. The applicants would still have to pass exams, and then undergo a three-month upgrading course at IFMNC.

Another feature of the new plan is to implement a new course, French as a second language, that would take into account the fact that some ethnic groups within New Caledonia, who speak other languages as their mother tongue, need a different teaching method to learn the French language.

The final goal is to reduce the currently high rate of failure within some ethnic groups. To this end, local education authorities, who have set up a new "Language and Kanak Culture" department, are currently exploring how to better teach the Kanak language.

"But to master the French language still remains a priority at school. This is the language of school success," Viratelle said.

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