School dropouts: Implications for social advancement | Daily News

School dropouts: Implications for social advancement

Courtesy IPS

At 15, Selvi Sivakumar left her school in Pussellawa. She completed Grade 10 and dropped out to work as a housemaid in Colombo.

“I was just fed up with schooling,” she said.

For 10 years, her journey to school took two hours, by bus and on foot. “The school is far. We would leave home at 6am to get to school at 8am. Even then, we would be late. They would punish us for it," she said. Around 30-40 students in her school who took the bus to school were punished for late attendance.

Her parents worked at Pussellawa tea estates and have two other children. But by the time Selvi; the youngest was in school, her mother was too sick to work and her father could no longer afford to send her to school.

“After Grade 10, the subjects become more expensive. You need more books. We just didn’t have the money," she said.

In 2007, Examinations Commissioner General Anura Edirisinghe said that over 51 per cent of students had failed the O/L examination. The 2014 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) country report revealed that close to 14 percent of children drop out of school before their GCE O/L exams.

In the midst of such dismal statistics, a new government programme aims at making 13 years of schooling compulsory.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said this week that the new move would be directed towards revolutionising the education sector to suit modern and future requirements.

Keeping children in school for 13 years, however, will prove to be a bigger challenge.

A spokesman for the Women and Child Affairs Ministry said children dropped out of school either due to economic constraints or they voluntarily choose to pursue other avenues of skills development.

“School education is not the only avenue available. A new system should take all these factors into account," she said.

A study by the UNICEF in 2013 titled ‘Out-of-School Children in Sri Lanka: Country Study’ observed that whilst it was necessary to make education compulsory up to 16 years, it was also important for the government to assist children in disadvantaged families to continue with their studies.

The report also showed that plantation schools had one of the highest rates of dropouts, whilst richer areas had lower rates of dropouts.

“Poorer children were more likely than wealthier children to be out of school; some 6.8 percent of lower-secondary-school-age children in the lowest wealth quintile were out of school."

Of the poorer children, boys at 8.3 percent were more likely to leave schooling than girls at 5.4 percent.

As children grew older, their chances of dropping out of school was greater. Many opted to find casual work rather than continue with their studies.

The Child Activity Survey in 2008/2009 showed that: “Of children who do not attend school, 19.1 percent were engaged in child labour: 20.8 percent were aged 12–14 years and 1.1 percent were aged 5–11 years. Out-of-school boys were more likely than out-of-school girls to be engaged in child labour (24.7 percent compared to 11.8 percent). Out-of-school children in the urban sector were more likely than those in the rural or estate sectors to be engaged in child labour: 28.1 percent in the urban sector, 18.4 percent in the rural sector and 11.2 percent in the estate sector.”

Though girls were more interested in studying than boys, the UNICEF report stated that socio-cultural barriers in certain ethnic groups (e.g., plantation Tamils and Moors/Malays),” kept them out of school. The girls were either employed in domestic work at an early age or married off.

Methodist College, Colombo, Principal, Hiranya Fernando said most students drop out of school due to poor facilities and infrastructure in many schools.

The UNICEF report too stated: “The availability of water and sanitation facilities in schools can also have an impact on children’s participation. Nearly 43 percent of schools had access to water from wells, 28 percent had tap water and 17 percent had no water facilities.

Information by the School Health and Nutrition Branch of the Education Ministry shows that around 20 percent of school toilets were in need of repair before they could be used. These conditions can contribute to the non-participation of students, especially girls who have reached the age of puberty.

Fernando observed that whilst it is good to make schooling compulsory for 13 years, the government needs to think about how they would be restructuring the existing subjects into the new system.

“The government is promoting National Vocational Training Qualifications, so if children are to study for 13 years, when will they do these vocational training," she asked.

She proposed that the students be allowed to follow other technical skills parallel to their usual school curricula during their 13 year period of schooling.

“Our current examination system is not for everybody. Exams are too hard and that is why many fail. Not everyone can be an academic, there are several fields out there and children need to be able to choose these other areas," said Fernando.

Unlike Selvi, Naomi Silva who studied at Methodist College, dropped out of school after her O/Ls to pursue a career in teaching.

“There are both pros and cons in not continuing your studies for 13 years. I did my teaching degree and started working when my friends were still studying. Now at 27, I am settled with a family," she said.

Mohamed Thariq too opted to leave school after his O/Ls to pursue a diploma in Information Technology.

“I was chosen for the A/L maths stream, but I figured that I would be utilizing my time better if I pursued my passion in IT instead," he said.

Having completed a Higher National Diploma in IT, he went on to study for a degree in Business Information Systems and is now employed in a reputed company.

“At 26, I have 5 ½ years of work experience. To me, that is more valuable than schooling. It all depends on your passion. It is not compulsory that we all go to university and become doctors and engineers," he said.

For Selvi, however, her employment options are limited,

“If we had better facilities, I would have continued my education," she said when asked about the '13 years of compulsory education."

[Global scenario of children out-of-school]

In 2013, an estimated 59 million children of primary school age were out of school; 52 percent of them were girls. About one third of the world’s out-of-school children live in West and Central Africa; about one fifth are in Eastern and Southern Africa. In West and Central Africa, more than a quarter of all primary-school-age children are out of school.

In South Asia, Pakistan faces the largest challenge in terms of both the proportion (28 per cent) and number (5.5 million) of children out of school

Although the number of out-of-school children of primary school age declined globally from 99 million to 59 million between 2000 and 2013, progress has stalled since 2007.

More than half the countries and areas worldwide have achieved or nearly achieved universal primary education – that is, they have a net enrolment rate or net attendance rate of more than 95 percent. In about 25 countries, however, net enrolment or attendance is less than 80 percent. These countries are concentrated mainly in West and Central Africa and in South Asia, and many of them are affected by conflict. In many countries, children from the poorest 20 percent of the population are less likely to attend school than those who are better off, with each successive quintile having a higher average attendance.

The largest disparities of all are in West and Central Africa. In Guinea, for example, nearly 90 percent of children from the wealthiest households attended primary school in 2012, compared with less than a third of children from the poorest quintile.

Children in rural areas are in general more disadvantaged, being almost twice as likely to be out of primary school as their urban counterparts.

Source: UNICEF


 

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