Noticing Early Signs Of Learner Disengagement Can Prevent Dropouts

Early detection of student disengagement can help prevent dropouts

The Department of Basic Education has long struggled with the problem of learner dropouts. There still needs to be greater intervention even though there have been small gains.

South Africa has a shockingly high rate of learners dropping out of schools, which has been a great cause of concern for the Department of 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.

According to studies, students who leave school early have less access to higher education and job possibilities than students who finish their basic education requirements.

Academic underachievement and grade repetition were found to be the two primary causes of the high dropout rate, according to a significant evaluation that was undertaken in 2008. These problems still exist in the South African educational system fifteen years later, despite modest advancements.

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 seen from the interventions that we’ve done in other provinces that we’ve worked in, that as soon as there’s some kind of intervention and we pick up on these signs at an early stage, and we put critical support in place, that there is [a] shift in learners’ perceptions of school, in learners’ engagements with school and their ability to navigate the issues that they have…we can’t change their life circumstances, but we can certainly change what we expecting or asking learners to do, often on their own.”

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.

Mansfield claims that students who repeat grades more than once but still attend class represent a chance for the educational system to “really serve students and young people” by leveraging their readiness to “come back to battle” and putting in place the necessary supports to keep students in the classroom.

According to Mansfield, making the decision to leave school is a lengthy process that takes place over a period of years rather than being made instantly.

“As a student navigates their daily lives, a number of circumstances, including those in their homes, communities, and academics, might cause them to feel disengaged at first, and that disengagement can then continue to rise. The causes are frequently ignored, we don’t pick them up, we don’t react to them, and eventually, learner disengagement becomes so severe that they stop attending school.”

Because there is a dearth of statistics, 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, school bullying, teen pregnancies, geography, violence in communities and schools, and other factors all have an impact on why students decide to leave the educational system.

The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), the expansion of learner-level enrollment and attendance monitoring systems, no-fee schools, policies on teenage pregnancies, and special examination preparation support for Grade 12 students are some of the Department of Basic Education’s most important initiatives to combat the high rate of school dropouts.

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 be access sites for food, psychological support, and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, and violence prevention, emotional learning, and psychosocial support activities will all be incorporated into the curricula.

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