Over 1,700 parents in court after their children miss school
More than 1,700 parents were taken to court because their children had played truant last year with children in 631 of the cases "disappearing from school" for over three weeks.
Although the number of parents arraigned is far below the 4,836 parents fined during the 2007/2008 scholastic year, Malta is still considered to have a high prevalence of school absenteeism.
In 2004, 648 parents were fined, a figure which jumped to 3,976 a year later.
In the last scholastic year, 691 school children did not attend up to 10 days of school, 440 missed between 11 and 20 days and 631 skipped three weeks of school, The Times has learnt. As a result, 1,762 parents were taken to court for failing to explain why their children did not attend school.
Parents are obliged, under the Education Act, to make sure their children attend school regularly unless there is good reason for them to not to.
The Education Directorate is informed if a child does not go to school without justification and, in turn, it contacts the parents, who have three days to explain the absence. If unjustified, the parents are fined.
An in-depth investigation was launched in the case of students who missed over three weeks of school "as these may be serious cases of truancy", an Education Ministry spokesman said.
Students who missed up to 20 days usually did so because of illness or appointments where the parents failed to provide a medical certificate, the spokesman added.
Malta's absenteeism statistics are considered to be very high and in 2005 then Education Minister Louis Galea had set up a task force to look into the problem. Chaired by Maryiln Clark, the group was meant to provide a number of solutions to the problem. However, nothing was ever heard of the task force since then.
Cospicua had the highest rate of truancy in scholastic year 2007/ 2008 with 120 students not attending secondary school, according to statistics given in Parliament last year.
Żabbar ranked second with 113 students missing school, closely followed by Valletta with 112 truants.
The Malta Union of Teachers referred to the problem recently, noting that Malta ranked among the top EU countries when it came to secondary school absenteeism. Quoting figures of about 200 students aged between 15 and 16 absent from school for long periods last year, along with about 160 students aged 14, the union pointed out that student support services were a possible solution but this required a heavy investment in resources and training.