Why Merely Fixing Schools Will Not Return Children To Classrooms 

Is “fixing the school system” really enough, or does the problem have roots that reach deeper?

4 min read
The study shows a larger number of children drop out of school because of socio-economic factors, more than other reasons.

For every child aged 8-19 years who blamed their school environment for dropping out, three said family issues forced them out, according to a recent study that followed a group of children for 11 years.

The study When and Why Children Discontinue School Education in India is part of an ongoing study of 3,000 students in former Andhra Pradesh (now bifurcated into Telangana and Andhra) since 2002. Of them, 450 had dropped out of school during the course of the study that covered primary to university levels.


What Are The Reasons For Children Dropping Out?

The study finds the largest number of students drop out because of socio-economic, or “pull” factors. 
The study finds the largest number of students drop out because of socio-economic, or “pull” factors. 
Photo: The Quint/Vishnu Gopinath

The October 2017 paper was written by Renu Singh and Protap Mukherjee of Young Lives India, the India chapter of an international investigation of childhood poverty across four countries. The study was funded by the University of Oxford, UK.

For children, pull factors such as socio-economic disadvantages that lead to child labour and child marriage were most responsible for dropping out and push factors –related to institutional shortcomings – the least, the study found.

India's Hope of Universal Education a Mere Dream?

Some of the more common causes of dropping out, as named in the study.
Some of the more common causes of dropping out, as named in the study.
(Photo: The Quint/Vishnu Gopinath)
Most educational interventions only focus on ‘within school’ factors, which according to the children, were the least important in causing them to discontinue education.

The target of the study was primarily poor: 46% of children belonged to the backward class and 67% to the bottom and middle wealth terciles.

India’s goal of achieving universal education by 2030 was 50 years behind schedule in 2016, according to UNESCO. The progress of its education programme is hampered by the high dropout rate in schools.

By grade X, 47 million Indian youth dropped out of school, IndiaSpend reported on 17 August 2016.

India can achieve universal primary education only by 2050, lower secondary by 2060 and upper secondary by 2085, the Economic Times reported on 6 September 2016.


Marriage: The Biggest Factor For Girls Opting Out?

Why Merely Fixing Schools Will Not Return Children To Classrooms 
(Photo: The Quint
A third category of reasons for dropping out of school were classified as “opt out” factors – disengagement from school education for personal and behavioural issues such as absenteeism, truancy, bad health, and attitude to schooling. A fifth of the 450 children who dropped out, aged 8 years in 2002, cited these opt out factors for leaving school.
Marriage appeared to affect girls the most. It was cited as the reason that forced 29%, 43.2%, 31.3% and 25% girls to drop out before completing upper primary, secondary, higher secondary and university education, respectively.

On the other hand, only 5% boys said marriage impeded their studies and that too at the university level. None cited it as a reason for dropping out at other levels of education.

The Caste Divide: Another Key Factor?

Children from backward classes were 2.3 times more likely than those from scheduled castes to leave education before higher secondary because of the paucity of scholarships, the paper said.

While children from scheduled tribes dropped out the most at the upper primary level (36.5%), those from backward classes had the highest percentage among dropouts at the secondary and higher secondary levels.

The highest dropout among children from the bottom wealth tercile in the sample took place at the upper-primary level (30%), followed by before entering secondary education (29.5%).

The largest number of children from both the middle (40.2%) and top wealth terciles (38.2%) in the sample discontinued education after completing secondary education.


What Other Factors Contribute?

Of the total dropouts, 92% of those who had not attended preschool left school before completing higher secondary. The figure was 82.7% for those who had done preschool.

In communities without support from Integrated Child Development Services – a government programme that provides food, preschool education and primary healthcare to children under 6 years and their mothers – 41%, 27%, 24% and 8.5% children left school before completing upper-primary, secondary, higher secondary and university, respectively. Compare this to the 24%, 27%, 35.6% and 14% for communities with support.

Communities with a public high school had 18% dropouts before completing upper-primary compared with 31% in communities without a public high school.

In communities with a public high school more than 5 km away, 36% children dropped out before completing secondary education compared to 23% in communities where the school was closer.

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