Home Article Noticing Early Signs Of Learner Disengagement Can Prevent Dropouts

Noticing Early Signs Of Learner Disengagement Can Prevent Dropouts


For the Department of Basic Education, learner dropouts have been a persistent problem. More intervention is required even though there have been slight improvements.

Basic Education (DBE), particularly as the country deals with a sky-high unemployment rate, especially amongst the youth.

Due to the tremendous youth unemployment and poor economic circumstances the country is experiencing, a matric certificate carries quite a bit of weight in South Africa, however many students drop out before their Grade 12 final exams.

A Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) General Household Survey reported that approximately 51% of learners who start Grade 1 will complete Grade 12 and obtain a National Senior Certificate, and it is estimated that 250 000 learners dropout of school every year.

Studies suggest that learners who drop out of school prematurely experience a lack of access to higher education and fewer job opportunities than learners who complete basic education schooling.

In 2008, a major review was conducted, which revealed that academic underachievement and grade repetition were the two main contributors to the high dropout rate. A decade and a half later, these issues remain relevant in the South African schooling system, despite some improvements.

Early warning indicators of a learner who may drop out often appear when they are very young and take the shape of persistent absences, subpar academic performance, and behavioral issues.

The decision to drop out of school completely can be influenced by learners who are present in classrooms where they are finding it difficult to manage, comprehend, and keep up with the work, as well as if they just don’t like the learning environment.

Merle Mansfield, Director of Zero Dropout Campaign, says that if these various signs and factors are recognized early enough, a learner’s perception of school can change and they can stay in education until they matriculate.

“We’ve observed from the interventions we’ve carried out in other provinces that we’ve worked in that there is a shift in learners’ perceptions of school, in learners’ engagements with school, and in learners’ ability to navigate the issues that they have, as soon as there is some kind of intervention and we pick up on these signs at an early stage, and we put critical support in place. We can’t change their life circumstances, but we can definitely change what we expecting or a response.”

According to Mansfield, this is actually the contrary of what is commonly believed about young people, who are often seen as lazy and reluctant to put up the effort necessary to finish school.

When compared to how young people are frequently viewed—as lazy, unmotivated, and disengaged—it is a harsh and striking contrast.
In no-fee-paying schools, 20% of the students in the senior/FET phase are three or more years older than they should be, according to the dropout statistics. This tells me that even though they had already repeated [a grade or grades] once, twice, or three times before reaching the FET phase, they still chose to return.

According to Mansfield, students who repeatedly repeat grades can be seen as an opportunity for the educational system to “really serve students and young people” by utilizing their willingness to “come back to battle” and putting in place the necessary supports to keep students in the classroom.

Mansfield continues, “Deciding to drop out of school is not a decision that is made instantly, but rather it is a long process that spans across many years.

A student experiences the beginnings of disengagement, which spikes over time and is influenced by a variety of elements they are juggling in their daily life. These factors can include issues in their homes, communities, and academic settings, which can all add up over time. And frequently, we fail to recognize, pick up on, or react to these factors, which leads to learners’ disengagement becoming so extreme that they stop attending school.

Because there is a lack of data, it is challenging to monitor the school dropout rate.

Without the school system being absolutely certain of where the learner has ended up, they may have changed from one school to another, enrolled in a private school, started homeschooling, or become the same students who are leaving out.

Although South Africa has effective monitoring mechanisms, she continues, there are data gaps that can be ascribed to the manner in which the data is gathered. These disparities are caused by a variety of factors, including the locations of the schools, the resources that certain schools lack, and a lack of staff.

Covid-19, bullying in schoolsteen pregnancies, geography, violence at schools and in communities, all play an influential role into why learners choose to exit the school system.

Some of the Department of Basic Education’s key initiatives to combatting the high rate of school dropouts include the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), the expansion of the learner-level enrolment and attendance monitoring systems, no fee-paying schools, policies on teenage pregnancies, as well special examination preparation support for Grade 12 learners.

The Department also wants to enhance early elementary school learning.

Improving reading, learning, and teaching in general, but particularly in the early grades, is a top government objective in order to increase students’ motivation to finish their education and, in turn, lower the incidence of school dropouts.

In order to identify students who are at risk of dropping out and to provide support as necessary, efforts will be made to put support programs into place and undertake activities to help high-risk students develop their resilience.

Schools will continue to serve as access points for food, psychological support, and services related to sexual and reproductive health (SRH), as well as for activities that promote emotional learning and violence prevention.

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