Around a large sheet spread out on the ground, four children are busy, brush in hand. They are welcomed every day by an association that works for access to education in Mayotte, where unschooled minors are ever more numerous. How many are they ? In this new school year, the Defender of Rights was worried to see their number “estimated at more than 15,000” in the 101st French department.
A study conducted by a researcher from the University of Paris-Nanterre estimates them at between 5,000 and 10,000. “The reality is that we don’t really know how to count them or how to count them,” confides the rector of the Mayotte academy, Jacques Mikulovic. “The numbers are based on population estimates. But we don’t know exactly how many we are…”, he adds.
“We lost track of nearly 4,000 children”
INSEE estimates the population of the territory at 310,000 inhabitants on 1 January. The Mahoran school system is bent under population growth, due in particular to immigration. The Mayotte hospital center thus recorded a new birth record in 2022, with more than 10,700 newborns.
“In three years, all these children will go to the small section. But the buildings, the staff can’t keep up,” notes Tanguy Mathon-Cécillon, research fellow in demography at Paris-Nanterre. In small section, the rectorate estimates at 6,000 the number of students supported, between children enrolled in school and those who are directed to other devices. “We are far from the 10,000 children who are born each year in the territory. We have lost track of nearly 4,000 children…”, notes the rector. It is up to the parents to register their children at the town hall or to contact associations when places are lacking at school. But families are sometimes misinformed, or absent.
The sesame of a “real school”
The associations Mlezi Maore, Les Apprentis d’Auteuil or Le Village d’Eva receive some of the children who find themselves outside the school system. “In 2022, we saw 844 children pass through,” says Sébastien Denjean, director of the Village of Eva, which has 11 employees and 19 young people in civic service on four sites. In that of Combani, in the center of Grande-Terre, 3-6 year olds are welcomed every day. “We try to apply the Montessori method, pedagogy through sensory education”, describes the director.
The older ones meet in one of the classrooms. Benwael, 9, and Rouaida, 11, are among them. “My grandmother always waits for the holidays to [nous] find a place at school,” says Benwael, who also lives with his aunt and cousins. Arrived in Mayotte two and a half years ago, he was previously educated in the Comoros. Rouaida is also eager to join a real school, even if she feels good in Eva’s Village. “I’m learning to speak French well, I like mathematics and then we paint, we play,” says the young girl, who came from Madagascar a year ago.
The pitfall of “administrative status”
Here, all the children are of foreign origin and in an irregular situation. “If they don’t have a place at school, it’s also because some town halls ask for more supporting documents than necessary and drag out the files. Sometimes the children are not even registered on the waiting list”, regrets the director. The rectorate has also put in place adapted systems: classes outside the walls in kindergarten at the rate of 12 hours per week, upgrading in the general stream for “dropout” students at the end of third…
Often, the latter “would like to go to a vocational school, this represents 50% of the requests, but we do not have enough room”, regrets the rector. And there are those, sometimes alone, often dormant, who do not fit into any system. “Some also know that with regard to their administrative status, going to study will not change anything”, notes the rector.