The Third International Conference on Financing for Development has concluded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with hopeful aspirations for financing the ambitious UN Sustainable Development Goals related to education, including $400 billion in commitments from the multilateral and regional development banks during the next three years.
As stakeholders sort out their priorities for the post-2015 development agenda, it is critical that policies, programs and significant resources focus on preventing school dropout. Doing so will reinforce the anticipated goal of ensuring all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030.
What’s at stake
While completion of primary school is up overall, UNESCO projects that by the end of 2015, only one in six children in low and middle income countries – almost 100 million kids – will drop out before completing their primary education. The projection is even more staggering for low income countries, where more than one in three children are expected to drop out.
The worldwide rate of fifth grade completion for 2015 is approximately 75 percent. In South and West Asia, the projection falls to 64 percent and, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 58 percent.
In 2015, only 13 out of 106 countries will see 97 percent of their youth population finish school.
The gender component
It may come as a surprise that boys, overall, are more likely to leave school early. Boys tend to drop out of school at a rate of 26 percent as compared with 20 percent of girls. Once enrolled, girls stand an equal or better chance than boys of continuing to the upper grades of primary school.
Extreme poverty can affect attainment, however, with the poorest girls still facing a severe disadvantage over the poorest boys in entering and completing primary education. Similarly, at the lower secondary level, girls’ attainment remains a significant concern in poorer countries.
However, in richer countries, it is boys who are more likely to dropout in lower secondary, and that trend is even more evident in upper secondary. In fact, girls’ graduation rates from upper secondary school exceed those of boys in all OECD countries except Germany.
School dropout factors
There are numerous factors that play a role in whether kids stay in school or not, many of which also pose a problem for initial enrollment: poverty; school affordability; quality or relevance of education; unsafe or insecure school environments; etc.
Poor children are the most vulnerable, leaving school to take up paid employment, pulled into household chores or, in the case of girls, teen pregnancy or pressure for early marriage. The causes vary from country to country, and within countries and regions.
A range of interventions aimed at expanding access and improving quality have helped to reduce dropout. Accessibility initiatives include offering girls’ scholarships, cash transfers, school fee abolition; school uniforms; school feeding programs and creating safer school environments. In terms of improving quality, there are initiatives to improve teacher training and support, provide relevant and modern learning materials and integrate technology and gender-sensitive practices
Yet, school dropout remains a persistent concern.
The new Sustainable Development Goals call for a greater focus on reaching the most marginalized groups: the poorest, the disabled, ethnic minorities and children in conflict countries. These marginalized groups are the most vulnerable to school dropout and in order to realize the goal of greater educational equity, we have to confront the issue of school dropout.
To do this, the international development community must pay attention to approaches that have been proven to have an impact and can be taken to scale.
SDPP: A proven approach to mitigating school dropout
Successful solutions must be tailored to each country with a thorough understanding of the factors that a fueling dropout.
Creative Associates International has undertaken a particularly successful approach to preventing school dropout that illustrates a customizable solution that can be widely replicated.
The U.S. Agency for International Development funded School Dropout Prevention Pilot was implemented by Creative in Cambodia, India, Tajikistan and Timor-Leste.
Creative’s experts closely scrutinized the factors of dropout, identifying the most severely affected groups, grades and/or geographic areas, and analyzed the relevant risk factors before designing, implementing and evaluating interventions to keep at-risk kids in school.
A central feature of Creative’s School Dropout Prevention Pilot is an Early Warning System that uses readily-accessible school data to identify students at risk of dropping out, and support teachers, families and communities to address their needs. The pilot program also incorporates a second intervention, including for some countries student-centered, hands-on after-school programs, tutoring, computer labs, in-school recreation, personal development curricula and social support programs.
“One reason the program is so effective in reducing student dropouts is because it is a community-wide effort,” writes U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William E. Todd. “The SDPP Program works directly with students, teachers, and community groups to help children stay in school and work towards a better future.”
It is precisely this sort of tailored approach that can be instrumental in keeping kids in school and ensuring that they are equipped for success in tertiary education and meaningful employment.
Preventing school dropout is fundamental to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Cris Revaz serves as Senior Education Counsel, with expertise in global education advocacy.