The inaugural Zero Dropout Action Summit to showcase the findings of a four-year pilot on dropout prevention

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, school dropout was a ‘hidden crisis’ barely featuring on the national agenda even though it is commonplace in many communities. The pandemic has brought South Africa’s dropout crisis to the fore, necessitating schools to take immediate action to get learners back into the classroom. But it’s not going to be easy without a recommended school-led dropout prevention plan to light the path.

“Many no-fee schools — accounting for roughly 80% of the country’s schools — are hampered by resource challenges. To help direct these schools, and others, to deal effectively with learner dropout, we are launching toolkits of best practice later this month,” says Merle Mansfield, Programme Director of the Zero Dropout Campaign.

The Zero Dropout Campaign began working with four NGO implementing partners in 2017 to pilot innovative dropout prevention and reintegration strategies in schools.

“The aim of the pilot was to develop scalable models of best practice to prevent dropout by learning from the experiences of our implementing partners and the schools they work with,” Mansfield explains.

The findings of the pilot form part of a series of toolkits to be launched at the inaugural Zero Dropout Action Summit on 28 September. The Action Summit is a free virtual event for schools and stakeholders in the basic education sector; speakers include researchers and experts working with the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

The Action Summit is taking place at time when school dropout is the highest in 20 years, according to researchers.

Although many educators are trying their best to retain and re-engage learners using various tactics and strategies, Mansfield says that with a recommended plan of action, these schools may be in a better position to achieve the following goals by the end of the year:

  • Schools must ensure that every learner who was registered at the beginning of 2021 is accounted for;
  • Schools have up-to-date contact details for all registered learners and their primary caregivers; and
  • Schools are using dropout prevention tools to create systems of support for their learners.

The results of the nationally-representative NIDS-CRAM survey found that an additional 500 000 learners are out of school compared to pre-pandemic figures. It’s unclear whether they are permanent school-leavers or temporary non-attendance, but some researchers are concerned that the ripple effect of disrupted learning will be felt over the next ten years.

Given the seriousness of the situation, the basic education sector must make the reduction of dropout an explicit goal of our schooling system. In recent weeks, the Zero Dropout Campaign in collaboration with education researchers, advocates and activists wrote an open letter to Minister Angie Motshekga, requesting that she set in motion a comprehensive strategy to prevent dropout, starting with the accurate and reliable collection of data about individual learners. This will help educators and education officials to better understand learners’ pathways through school, allowing them to intervene before a learner drops out.

“The systems and models of best practice we put into place today will serve us well into the future. Now is the time for collaborative action —from national government all the way down to schools and communities,” Mansfield concludes.

Click here to register to attend the Action Summit. To arrange interviews or for more information, send an email to