OPINION

School dropouts- Causes and concerns

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By: M Ahmad

Education is a basic human right and fosters economic growth and human development. Providing right type of education to the right people at right time is the key to human resource formation. Education enables a person to achieve a better job or means of self-employment. It cultivates cultural values and beliefs in the child. Once the awareness to send students regularly to the school continues, slow but sure results will follow. The values of education are countless but let us not ignore the fact that education is a fundamental human right as it promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits. Education for youngsters is a powerful tool by which we can prevent economically and socially marginalized adulthood and enables them to lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully as productive citizens.

Dropping out of school is defined as leaving a school without completion to a formal qualification awarded. It is of critical importantance due to the economic and social consequences on communities and families. Educators and policy makers are constantly looking for support programs to re-enrol existing school dropouts and enable them to improve their academic achievement skills, obtain their high school diplomas or equivalent which bolster their employability through work experience and training.

Out of 200 million children from the age of 6-14 years, 120 million are in school but only 10 million managed to reach Class X. – A study by RTE India. Every year, a large number of students drop out of school worldwide and this hinders their economic and social well-being as well as reduces the literacy rate of the country and creates a non-innovative environment. The issue of dropout in India is of particular importance and interest. The number of high school and college students who do not complete their school and college education emerges as a significant challenge to the education system in India. There is a conventional norm in our country that each student has to complete his/her education before stepping into the professional world.

Although children discontinue schooling for various reasons, it is not the right practice as it could impact their future and overall development. Some of the most probable reasons why children drop out of school could be:

Bad Influence: Bad influence on children is the most common reason for kids dropping out of school. Early or unlimited exposure to alcohol, drugs, internet, and television can distract children from pursuing academics and initiate them into antisocial activities instead.

Academic Difficulty: Inability to cope with the academic pressure is another reason for kids to opt out of school. Studies prove that kids who do not read proficiently are four times more likely to drop out of school. Studies also reinstate the fact that students who fail in math are 75% more likely to drop out of high school.

Family And Socio-Economic Needs: A research reveals that students belonging to low-income groups are more likely to drop out of school. They may have to work to support their family. Some children may need to stay back at home to take care of their siblings while the parents go out to work. Divorce or separation of parents also affects the education of children adversely. According to a study by the National Center of Education Statistics, students with low family incomes have the highest dropout rates at 9.4%. This is because many times these children need to get a job rather than going to school so they can help to support their families.

Poor Health: The health of a child greatly affects his learning ability and performance at school. Illnesses that occur during childhood and continue for a longer time may curb a child’s ability to continue school.

Retention (If practised): Retention has a negative impact on the self-esteem of children. They feel bad being older than their classmates and tend to drop out of school.

Disengagement: Many kids find school boring and according to a study, almost 71% students become disinterested in high school while they are in the 9th and 10th grades. They prefer to go late to school, skip classes and take long lunch breaks. The lack of interest often leads to dropping out of school. Some students find it difficult to connect with the teacher. A majority of students did not feel their teachers motivated them enough to work hard.

Mental Illness: According to a survy, those students with depression were twice as likely to drop out of high school. This is because their mental illness can affect their ability to learn and their engagement. These students also tend to go unnoticed because their condition might be chalked up to being a teenager.

Disabilities: Students with disabilities, whether they are physical or emotional, have a harder time in school. According to a study, only about 62% of students with disabilities graduate. Depending on their disability, it can not only be harder for them to maneuver around the school, but they can become isolated as well.

Lack of Parental Support: The lack of parental involvement is a problem that often leads to higher dropout rates, especially with high school students. Parents play an important role when it comes to high school attendance. High school dropouts often have parents who weren’t engaged or concerned with their academic success. If a parent doesn’t encourage her child to stay in school, show interest in classes and teachers, communicate with administration, or pay attention to homework assignments, the child might not see any reason to follow through with the coursework. When parents don’t prioritize their child’s high school education, the child may choose to drop out.

A recent survey by National Statistical Office (NSO) has revealed that around 12.6% of students drop out of school in India, 19.8% discontinued education at the secondary level, while 17.5% dropped out at the upper primary level. The Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+)  latest annual report has mentioned dropout rate for secondary level education to 14.6 per cent. At the peak of the covid pandemic with school closures, 247 million children were affected in India. As per UDISE report 2021-22 over all dropout rate in Primary standard is 0.76%, In Upper Primary it is 2.27% and in Secondary classe it is 14.04%. Dropout rate is highest in Asam-30% followed by Megaliya and Tripora- 27% while as it is lowest in Chandigarh and Lakshadeep-0%.

It is recommended that the government should conduct awareness camps in cities, towns, and villages to expose the hazards of illiteracy and unemployment. National Education Policy 2020 has mentioned various initiatives to be undertaken to curb the problem of dropout.                                                                                                                                                     1) The first is to provide efficient and sufficient infrastructure to all students.                                                                                                                                                      2) The second is to set up alternative and innovative education centers for the children of migrant laborers to ensure that their children have access to safe and engaging school education.                                                                                                                                                     3) Dropout early warning system be carefully noticed at the schools to identify students who are at risk of dropping out of school and to focus on these students.                                                    4) Schools should practice innovative teaching methods to draw students towards education and spark interest in them.                                                                                                                                        5) Digital learning strategies can be used to provide education so that students can access free educational content through smart-phone applications.

Research also tells us that even before students themselves may realize they are on the path to dropping out, clear signals are given regarding their situation.  These signals include aspects such as low reading proficiency in the early grades, poor grades in core academic courses, poor attendance and misbehaviour. Research tells us that parents and educators and school counsellors should look for these early signals to minimise their dropout. Studies have shown that most students expressed regret for having dropped out of school, with many seeing graduating from high school as important to success in life and significant numbers suggesting that if they could relive the experience, they would have stayed in school. Schools should implement early warning data systems that promptly notify appropriate school staff who should be trained in spotting these students and should intervene quickly to provide appropriate interventions and become a voice for them, who will fight to ensure they receive the support they need and halt otherwise disengagement misconduct.

The Government’s Right to Education Act and National Policy on Education may have been motivating to provide education to all but it is equally important to analyze the sustainability and efficiency of the education system to stop dropout exercise. Dropout rates are considered to be a great wastage in the education system, not only do many students leave school without acquiring basic skills, but their premature departure represents a significant waste of scarce education resources. In India, many students get only elementary education and after that number of students leaving the school are found to be increasing. The school dropout rate increases mostly in middle and high schools and this ultimately results in getting poor and incomplete education by the student which further results in low pay scale job and poor lifestyle.

Policy makers and education specialists should work together to implement a successful education system suitable for a new generation of students in the competitive job market that meets the challenges of modern globalized world. The education system should accept the challenges of the current job market through offering the necessary skills and tools to capture the interest of the new generation of students. The race to the top among different schools and educational entities as they reward winners in the race and punish losers in public tests is not a good practice. Current educational systems lack the understanding that the competitive world requires more cooperation in classrooms and between schools.  As educators and policy makers we should find ways to ensure the education systems meet the needs of all youth, including those at-risk of dropping out. Providing suitable education to all students, “equitable education system” makes sure that all students will perform well giving them early support. It will also emphasize caring and well-being in school (through healthy nutrition, medical, dental and psychological health).

A key factor in this equation is the “education system” itself. What is needed is a flexible education system that offers an adequate individual personalization where learning activities are based on student needs and legitimate interests rather than, arbitrarily, on generic curriculum. Giving the freedom for schools to craft their curricula based on their capacities and local needs will support efforts to keep students in schools. Officials should act to reduce boredom and disengagement by expanding opportunities that are helpful like project-based and hands-on learning, giving high school students an option to earn credit for learning outside the traditional school day and year including internships and apprenticeships, independent study and community service.

The school dropout is indeed a matter of grave concern and to reduce this all , we should  work towards transitioning all children back into learning.  We must not only bring children back to school but also focus on putting strong remedial learning initiatives in place to ensure retention and continuity of learning.

(Writer M Ahmad is a regular writer for this newspaper and can be reached at [email protected])

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