drop outs

Algeria fines parents to curb drop-out rate


Parents who refuse to send school-age children to classes, as is required by law, will face fines from the Algerian Ministry of Education.

By Walid Ramzi for Magharebia in Algiers – 14/01/10

[Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images] Algeria will charge fines to parents if their children drop out of school.

Algeria's Ministry of Education, faced with a worrisome drop-out rate, has begun fining parents who do not send their children to school.

Since Saturday (January 10th), the ministry has been implementing a law imposing fines of up to 5 million centimes on parents who do not comply with the nine-year period of compulsory education for children ages 6-16. It will also prohibit the year-long expulsion of any pupil under age 16.

The fines, which the ministry announced in a January 10th press statement, aim to keep classrooms full of Algerian pupils, who are leaving schools at a rate of 500,000 per year. The ministry "will use these legal instruments to end the remaining ... abstention from school attendance in Algeria", according to the statement.

Some parents are cautious about the new measure, because the drop-out rate is connected to many families' decision to send their children to work, rather than school, to cope with poverty.

"The law was positive and welcome, but will not be able to address all the problems at hand, especially in isolated and remote areas," the secretary-general of the Association of Algerian Parents of Students, Khaled Ahmed, told Magharebia. "The association has some reservations, especially concerning poor and disadvantaged groups, because parents are unable to ensure the family's livelihood. How can they provide educational expenses, clothing, textbooks, school fees, transport, and food?"

Others called the new measures a framework for keeping kids in school. "The new decree is merely an affirmation of a right guaranteed by law but not yet implemented effectively," the head of the Algerian Literacy Association, Aicha Barki, told Magharebia. She said the objective of these measures was to "ensure [school enrolment] for the more than 3% of children who are of school age but not registered".

Enrolment rates vary in different areas of Algeria. Social and living conditions in many remote areas, where schools may be distant and transport scarce, prevent many parents from meeting their children's need for education. Girls often suffer first. Many of them, despite excelling academically, drop out because educating girls is not part of the local culture.

"The schooling rate for males is estimated at 99%, while the rate for females drops to 97%, necessitating finding a legal way to ensure [schooling for] the segment that has not yet benefited from the right to schooling," said Barki.

The association's statistics indicate that some 200,000 children are not enrolled in school each year, while 500,000 others leave school due to social and economic conditions. Barki placed part of the responsibility on parents and part on the Algerian administration, which she claimed had turned a blind eye to parents not sending their children to school despite the existence of compulsory education laws.

Parents had a range of reactions to the new measures. "The state must give [pupils] material aid to cover the expenses of children enrolled in study," said Ahmed, 45 and a father of three school-age children. At the beginning of the year, he has to "borrow money from family or friends to meet the rising [education-related] costs every year" and is sometimes forced to cut back on household expenses as a result.

"The state is obliged to take into account the social situation of families before imposing penalties that could increase the growing financial troubles of Algerian families," said Amer, 52, a father of five. "Social and living conditions are the main reason behind the increase in school drop-outs."

This content was commissioned for Magharebia.com.