The cross : How did the government mission on out-of-school children start and what do you expect from it?
Sandrine Mörch: In 2018, I met Anina Ciuciu, the sponsor of the École pour tous collective. Our work with the families affected by dropping out of school resulted in the publication of the decree of June 2020 on the administrative simplification of school enrollment (the lack of proof of address, until now necessary, was a problem for homeless families, Editor’s note).
→ LARGE FORMAT. Badly housed children, the forgotten ones of the French school system
At the same time, I requested the launch of this mission to identify the obstacles preventing access to education. The government finally granted it to me last July: I met a large number of families, young people and associations from all over France. The final report will contain concrete recommendations that are simple in practice. This is important, because apart from the associations, no one is going to step over a parapet on the bypass to meet these families in great poverty.
Who are the children concerned?
SM: There are the children of Travelers, Roma children who live in slums, but also those living in very precarious housing or staying in social hotels. In terms of nationalities, it really depends on international news, especially for unaccompanied minors. A quarter of these come from Guinea, another quarter from Mali, 13% from Côte d’Ivoire, but also many from Afghanistan and Syria.
Were the families we met willing to go to school?
SM: From one family to another, it’s different. Either the parents are caught up in very serious administrative and financial problems and make school something secondary. Or on the contrary, they are aware that this is the only way to change their situation and are betting a lot on it. In general, children have a real thirst for learning.
During the first confinement, in the Roma camps in Toulouse for example, the children were asking us for multiplications, not just food packages! For unaccompanied minors, we have received positive feedback from the teachers, who describe them as very voluntary young people, sometimes leader of their class. But it is true that there are also families that must be sought out, sometimes convinced. When the parents themselves are illiterate, school is terribly intimidating.
How do the teachers experience the situation?
SM: It often depends on the size of the class. If a teacher suddenly takes in 15 children who are seriously behind in school, it is obviously panic. Conversely, if they are less numerous, I have often observed an overinvestment of teachers. When there is an eviction, all this work is shattered: it is the tragedy for these children, but also for the teachers.
→ ANALYSIS. “More than 100,000 children out of school”, according to the children’s advocate
After several months in the field, what are the main obstacles identified?
SM: First, there is the administrative complexity. For these isolated families, the slightest step is an obstacle: filling out a paper, giving a credit card code, scanning documents … There are some who are lucky enough to be helped by associations, but for others, frankly c is impossible! Then, of course, there are the economic brakes. Not being able to pay for the canteen at noon, sometimes walking for hours to pick up your children and bring them back, because these are families who do not have a car. So inevitably, sometimes, they do not come back in the afternoon.
There are also the material brakes: if you don’t smell good, if you don’t have clean clothes, well you don’t go to school, it’s a question of dignity. Also the repeated expulsions, in the middle of the school year, which lead to cascading dropouts. Finally, I identified a real problem of refusal to register at the town halls counter. In my opinion, it is a question of how to use it: either the mayors and the staff are not aware of the administrative simplification decree, or they are unaware of the precariousness.
→ REPORT. “When are the slums going to end for us?” “
There are also certainly some who do not want to welcome these populations into their homes, others who cannot, because the rate of extreme poverty in their municipality is already very high. On this point, I will ask in the coming months that a census be taken of the town halls that do not apply the decree.
What other avenues for improvement will you suggest?
SM: What is most urgent is to increase the number of mediators in the field. They are the ones who will educate families, count them and facilitate the registration process. Today, 80% of children in a slum are in school when there is a mediator, while only 20% when there is not.
The UPE2A class system (Pedagogical Unit for newcomer allophone students, Editor’s note), which allows these students to acquire the French language and access regular classes, must also be developed. Today, 2,000 children benefit from it, but the number of classes should be increased, better distributed across the territory and the number of hours of French teaching increased. For officials, we should think about training related to the management of a very precarious population, so that they can understand the challenges of extreme poverty.