Critics have voiced their horror after discovering that Africans crossing the Mediterranean had become a mathematical equation in a textbook approved by the French education ministry for secondary school pupils.
Now the book publisher Nathan — who introduced the conundrum which featured a photograph of African migrants crammed into an inflatable dinghy — has issued an formal apology, although insisted it was only acting under orders.
Catherine Lucet, Nathan's chairman, said she "sincerely regretted the lack of sensitivity and judgement." While apologizing to associations helping migrants in France, it was not extended to the migrants themselves.
The offending exercise featured in the Hyperbole mathematics textbook, used by many 18-year-olds preparing for their baccalaureate, an examination intended to qualify successful candidates for higher education.
The question was designed to help pupils understand percentage by asking them:
"Migrants fleeing the war reach a Mediterranean island. The first week 100 arrive. Then each week the number of new arrivals increased by 10 percent. By how much is a quantity multiplied when it increases by 10 percent? Calculate the total number of migrants who will have arrived on the island after eight weeks. Round to the nearest whole number."
Next to the equation was a photograph featuring an inflatable dinghy crammed with African migrants.
The publisher has been hit with a wave of online protests, some accusing them of "exploiting the desperation of migrants to construct its mathematic problems." Another questioned who had approved the equation within the education ministry.
Nathan responded by saying it had only been doing what the government had asked by "using a concrete situation to help with an arthimetical-geometrical sequence.
"That is what we wanted to apply in this exercise by taking the example of a population which is growing regularly in connection with an issue in the news," it added.
Although it has escaped the worst of Europe's migration crisis, receiving 10 times fewer asylum claims than Germany last year, French officials fear they will soon face a bigger influx from its former west African colonies.