This is in response to the story in the Saturday Monitor of May 10 titled,“8 out of 10 UPE pupils quit school over fees”.
The story is from a joint study by Save the Children, UNICEF, UNHCR, ERIKS Stromme Foundation in collaboration with ministry of Education and Sports officials. The study findings pointed out financial constraints as the most prominent factor explaining both non-enrolment and high dropout rates. They reported that approximately 81 per cent of the households sampled stated that lack of money was the reason why their children dropped out of school while 58 per cent claimed financial constraints was the reason their children never enrolled in school in the first place.
While the issue of fees is critical in retention of children in school, there are many factors associated with dropping out; some of which apply to individual learners such as poor health or malnutrition and motivation. Others are attributed to the learners’ home situations such as child labour. School level factors also play a role in increasing pressure for dropout such factors as teacher absenteeism, poor quality education provision, and risky school environment especially for girls.
In other words, there is no single cause of dropout. Dropout is a process rather than a result of a single event. The alarming statistics from the study report which are to be investigated further also need to be put in context.
Tavleen Sign (2004) in an article on Indian Education titled “Money alone cannot teach kids to read and write” (Economic Times, June 7) points out that village schools suffered the usual problem. Teachers, despite being paid, come to work only when they want to and nobody could remember a single day when they were all present. This kind of capricious behaviour meant that children were lucky if they learned to read and write at the end of their primary school education”.
When attendance of teachers at school is irregular, children loose interest in the school. Teachers need to make learning enjoyable and pay special attention to children. “Shouting at children, not actively involving them in learning, sending children out of school for unjustifiable reasons and all other discouraging acts will not serve the purpose of education”. Azim Premfil (2003).
Pupils get involved in general diversionary activities. Most of them are influenced by their parents to look after farms, go fishing or to stay home looking after the sick. Stigma and discrimination is another reason for those infected and affected by HIV/Aids, as they miss too many days of school. Pupils who lose their parents are also more likely to drop out as they see very little value of continuing, unless they are counselled.Sometimes there is a clash between the family and school values.
Our children suffer the same fate. Single parent homes have become the norm . Many children are products of divorce, separation or sometimes family violence. This also accounts for increasing rate of dropout. Some families are not meeting their childrens’ basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Many children live in places where education is not valued, where drugs, alcohol and violence abound. Where schools are low performing, they often lack community and health support. Such children are very likely to dropout.
The school environment is another distressing factor; high-class sizes. For girls, lack of separate toilet facilities and appropriate sanitary facilities affects their attendance. Pupils/students are suspended for minor infractions like talking in class, they lack guidance and counselling, passive instructional strategies are sometimes used without regard to individual learners differences. In a class every child matters.
“Examination – oriented education imposes too much pressure on students”, according to Tao Hong Kai (2007). When students feel some subjects are too abstract and difficult to learn and the knowledge they grasp is not very useful in real life, they loose interest which leads to dropout. There is need for a teaching methodology that encourages and helps learners to find out who they are and also helps them to relax a bit and learn to smile a lot. It is, therefore, my appeal that all the affected constituencies play their rightful role if we are to combat this problem. For the school drop out rate to reduce, it requires a more holistic and multidisciplinary approach.
Dr Nsubuga is the director for Basic and Secondary Education, ministry of Education and Sports.