Only five per cent of the €500,000 in fines issued to parents for truancy have been paid.
Government documents seen by the Times of Malta show that only €24,000 has been paid by parents since 2013.
Some 10,400 fines have been issued over the past three scholastic years, with only one out of every five people actually paying up.
The €7 citations are handed out by local tribunals to parents whose children repeatedly miss more than three days of school in one month without a doctor’s certificate. Once issued, the fines are then followed by an additional €2.33 for every other attendance offence.
Education Directorate sources said that although the government was still keen on issuing the fines, enforcing them was not bearing fruit.
“The fines are there as a deterrent, and it works on parents who slip up, but we have found that they don’t work on parents who just don’t care about whether their children go to school or not,” they said.
Efforts to enforce payment of the fines, the sources said, had wound up harming the children rather than helping them get back into education.
“Coming down hard on these parents just hasn’t improved the chances of them getting their children back into class,” they said.
They told horror stories of truant children with mothers who were sex workers and fathers who were pimps. Others spoke of children as young as 12 looking after younger siblings or working in family businesses rather than attending school.
The education sources said that in light of this, the government had opted for other measures to try and entice children back into school.
Last month, this newspaper reported how absenteeism in schools within the inner harbour region, where the problem has been a major headache for many years, had been cut by more than half.
The ultimate point is to offer a meaningful educational experience in the first place
The San Ġorġ Preca College district, which encompasses several primary and secondary schools in the inner harbour area including Valletta, Floriana, Pietà, Marsa and Paola has become a “success story”.
In the 2013-2014 scholastic year, the college issued just shy of 500 truancy fines to parents. That number has now dropped to 187.
What was the solution?
The education authorities say the government has been working to improve the social assistance given to problem families, particularly through improving support services. An Education Ministry spokeswoman said the ministry had introduced numerous policies that combat absenteeism.
“The ultimate point is not to have more students in classes for the sake of it but to offer a meaningful educational experience in the first place which entices individuals with different qualities to attend,” she said.
In terms of social support services, the education authorities employed additional staff, ranging from psychologists and social workers to counsellors, to engage students coming from difficult social backgrounds.
The government commissioned a report on the matter and drafted a policy on improving attendance.
The spokeswoman said that, from the operational side, a great effort had been made to improve the coordination between different authorities and entities across the public sector.
“The reasons behind certain behaviours are broader than education,” she said.
“Figures compiled by the Education Directorate reveal that around one per cent of primary schoolchildren miss more than 40 days of school every year”
|Why are young students absent?
Financial troubles are the leading cause of truancy, according to a series of interviews and case studies by the Education Directorate.
Documents seen by this newspaper show the vast majority of students missing school experience serious money difficulties at home. Money problems also left children without the necessary tools to attend school.
Many do not attend school to help family businesses.
A lack of adequate parenting skills was also a leading cause.
Anxiety resulting from parents being in the process of separating, learning difficulties and disability were other reasons.
Parents’ addiction was also a leading cause.