NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Feb. 21) - Some 80,000 students - about half of them enrolled in private schools – have started the school year in New Caledonia's three provinces, RFO's Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reports.

New Caledonia's school system consists of state-run schools and a network of church-operated institutions.

Close to 70 percent of the primary school students are located in the affluent Southern province, while there are 5,147 in the Northern province and 2,756 in the Loyalty Islands province.

Meanwhile, the University of New Caledonia (UNC) is expecting to enroll this year up to 2,400 students, about ten percent more than last semester, UNC Vice-Chancellor Paul de Dekker told RFO.

UNC's higher education offer encompasses science, literature, and humanities.

It is also the first time this year that 20 primary school teachers, freshly-trained from the local teachers' college IUFM, will be teaching.

"We are placing high hopes in you", New Caledonia's education secretary Joël Viratelle said, adding there was a need to improve teachers' qualifications.

"It's a challenge on the future. Education is a priority for us to build our country.

"Not only is it important to know how to count, read and write. It is also important to learn how to live together", Viratelle stressed, saying this new generation of teachers was also tasked with getting across the "spirit" of the autonomy Nouméa accord.

Since 2000, under the accord, primary education is the sole responsibility of the territorial government, no longer France.

February 21, 2003

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