Why are cycling and swimming a priority for school sport this year?

“We must be a nation of swimmers”, declared on Friday the Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer, who was alongside Roxana Maracineanu, the Minister Delegate in charge of Sports for their joint press conference “Back-to-school sport” . In addition to swimming, the ministers also want all French people to know how to ride a bicycle, from an early age.

Because for the moment, it is far from being obvious. “Half of the college students, at the end of 6th year, do not know how to swim well”, indicated Roxana Maracineanu in an interview with Parisian. A study carried out by the town hall of Marseille last July also affirmed that “40 to 50% of children do not know how to swim at the end of CM2” in the Marseille city. And the social disparities in these areas are strong, as pointed out by a
study of the Injep (National Institute for Youth and Popular Education) published in June which concerned secondary school pupils: “Only 61% of the children of unskilled workers are good swimmers against 86% of the children of executives and the first are also six times more likely than the latter not to know how to swim ”. The fact that the swimming pools were closed at the height of the health crisis only increased the problem.

Only 6,412 swimming pools in France

A situation which can be explained by the lack of swimming pools in France. In a report published in 2018, the Court of Auditors noted that there were “6,412 swimming pools” in 2017, but that it was often “aging equipment, unevenly distributed over the territory”. France “has a swimming pool for 10,000 inhabitants”, the Sages still emphasized. Another concern according to Véronique Moreira, president of Usep (Sports Union for primary education): “In rural areas, swimming pools are often far from establishments, which poses a problem of school transport. As it takes too long and is expensive to transport the pupils to the swimming pool, they are sometimes deprived of it ”.

Regarding mastery of the bike, no statistics are available, but according to Véronique Moreira, many children are not accomplished cyclists at the end of primary: “They know how to pedal, but not ride on a road. And this because in the poorest families, we do not have the money to buy a bicycle and a helmet for the children. In urban areas, the home environment does not always allow you to learn to ride safely. In addition, many schools are not equipped with equipment ”.

“They are ashamed of not knowing how to swim or cycle”

And the fact of not knowing how to swim and cycle has obviously harmful consequences for children. First of all in terms of security. According to figures from Public Health France published in September, some 1,119 accidental drownings, including 250 fatal, occurred in France between early June and late August. And accidental drowning was higher in children under 6 (26%). The effects on children’s morale are also evident: “They are ashamed of not knowing how to swim or cycle. And the older they are, the more it is experienced as a handicap, ”emphasizes Véronique Moreira.

Suddenly, the government has set itself as priorities “knowing how to swim and knowing how to ride”. “We consider them to be real fundamental knowledge”, insisted Jean-Michel Blanquer. Since 2019, the aquatic ease plan allows children from 4 to 6 years old to learn to move for 10 minutes without ground support, to float, to learn to stand on their back to call in case of difficulty. A device that has so far trained 50,000 children. “The objective is to reach 90,000 children trained before July 1, 2022 and to 400,000 children in 2024”, assures the Minister of Education. “This would mark progress, but we are still a long way from generalizing this skill,” says Véronique Moreira.

Still insufficient objectives?

To boost the number of public pools, between 2006 and 2019, 560 swimming pools benefited from state subsidies for an amount of 206 million euros, to which 47 million euros have been added since 2019 for renovation or construction. of swimming pools.

At the same time, a “know how to ride a bicycle” plan was launched in 2009 for 6-11 year olds. “It is provided in 93% of the departments. And the objective of 100% of the departments in 2022 ”. The pupils thus learn to pedal, to recognize road signs, to know how to take into account other road users. For the time being, 65,000 children have already obtained their certificate, “but we want to reach the number of 200,000 by the end of 2022”, indicates Jean-Michel Blanquer. Funding of 21 million euros over three years should make it possible to recruit trainers, buy bicycles, etc.

But for Véronique Moreira, ambition remains insufficient: “For mastery of cycling and swimming to really progress, a“ Marshall plan ”for swimming pools is necessary. It would also be necessary to appoint in each school a referent sports teacher who would be responsible for forming partnerships with sports associations, managing the equipment and organizing training slots. But for him to succeed, he would have to be relieved of certain school hours, ”she suggests.

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