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Skipping school

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Skipping school

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Increasing the numbers of children in school and fighting truancy is always hard. The methods – from incentives to punitive measures – also aim to address the causes behind absenteeism, such as poverty. The government in Buenos Aires has set up a school aid programme to help some poor families.

In Argentina around a quarter of the population lives in extreme poverty. In the shanty towns, or ‘Villas Miseria’ around the major cities, especially close to Buenos Aries, many children work. Others just hang about or take drugs. Very few go to school regularly despite incentive benefits paid to poor families whose children do attend school.

Incentive payments (of 37 euros a month) are made for around 3.5 million children every month and the authorities say that attendance is improving.

Thanks their incentive payments, children from poor backgrounds can get not only an education but healthy school meals.

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Financial measures are used in a different way in France where some children apparently play truant out of boredom or a lack of interest in school. The government hopes that removing some social benefits from families whose kids skip school could cut the number of absent pupils.

Jaqueline Boulin has three children. Her 13-year old son has missed school this year because he has asthma. He takes cortisone, which makes him put on weight. But the social services think he is missing school because he does not want to go – and are threatening to dock her child benefit payments.

Jaqueline explained: “Unfortunately he gets teased by the other kids and even by the teachers. They call him Michelin man, fat boy, stinky. No wonder he doesn’t want to go back to that school. He doesn’t feel accepted there – quite the opposite in fact.”

The French government has ruled that child benefits will not be paid for children who are absent from school more than four half days a month without justification. More than 50 families have already been fined and around 30,000 have received a formal warning.

In France seven percent of schoolchildren regularly skip classes, and 10 percent of schools have absenteeism rates of 30 percent or more.

French Education Minister Luc Chatel refused to talk to us about absenteeism.

In Ethiopia, they think that “a well-fed child is a well-read child”. In Ethiopia where food security is a major problem, the World Food Programme is offering children a daily meal at school to encourage them to attend.

In rural Ethiopia many children miss out on education because many people are still herders and follow their herds as they search for grazing land and water. But the offer of free school meals is filling classrooms fast.

Schoolgirl Halko Kumbi said, “I see everyday that my mother and father have very difficult lives. As herders the work is very tough. My mother has to fetch water and wood and look after the children. My father has to take care of the goats, sheep and cattle. I don’t want this life when I grow up. I want to finish my education and to get a good job and because of this free meal I am able to do that.”

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