ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Youngsters in Ivory Coast return to school this week with a sword of Damocles above their heads: those with average grades of less than 8.5 out of 10 will be excluded at the end of the year.
The measure is an old one brought back by authorities in the hope of raising the general standard of education in the west African country – prohibiting any pupil with an unacceptable grade from pursuing their studies.
In the working-class district of Adjame, at the heart of the commercial capital Abidjan, the rule stirs comment at small stalls selling school supplies, where people also exchange secondhand textbooks.
“What are we going to do with the students who will be excluded? It’s too drastic!” said Mariam Eid, a mother of three.
“We’re going to turn them into bandits. We want the teaching to be up to par, but one step at a time,” she added, while making sure a worn mathematics book has no missing pages before she buys it.
But at the Pierre Amondji college in Adjame – where the motto “Who seeks perfection obtains excellence” is displayed in capital letters on the walls of the courtyard – the measure is generally well received among the students.
“I find it positive,” says Djenebou, who is taking the baccalaureate school leavers’ exam at the end of the year.
“It will incite us to redouble our efforts and work harder.”
“It’s a good measure. The goal is to improve our knowledge so we move on with solid training,” added his classmate Seydou.
But Seydou also hopes the regulation will not encourage fraud, and in particular the blackmailing of students by certain teachers in exchange for good exam grades.
“Some teachers are difficult… The marks are very low and to move on to the next class we have to negotiate with them,” the young student says.
The minister of national education, Ms Mariatou Kone, who is seeing in the second new school year of her time in office, defends a regulation that is far from universally welcomed.
“This is a measure that has existed since the 1970s and that we are restoring to encourage students to work and fight against mediocrity,” she said.
“Students will not be barred from the school system. There are bridges between technical education and vocational training,” Ms Kone added, keen “to reassure parents”.