OPINION: Challenging assumptions about school dropout – the evidence doesn’t support the popular stereotypes

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, four out of 10 pupils in South Africa would drop out of school before completing matric. Why? What makes a pupil more likely to drop out of school? Is it poverty? Geography? Disability? How does a pupil’s gender shape their experience of school?

These are fundamental questions in the campaign against school dropout, and crucial starting points for the roll-out of targeted interventions. Typically, a pupil would drop out of school after a long process of disengagement caused by a convergence of risk factors – of which there are more than 40 to consider. Given the multidimensional nature of dropping out, it’s no surprise that popular perceptions about who drops out and why, are skewed in favour of assumptions and stereotypes – often these are gendered.

In the popular imagination, a pupil who drops out is thought of as lazy or irresponsible. Similarly, the experiences of boy, girl and non-binary pupils are often oversimplified or misunderstood, creating unhelpful stereotypes that can make their journeys through school more difficult. Rethinking assumptions will help policymakers and role-players in the basic education sector to build more responsive programmes, systems and policies.

The Zero Dropout Campaign’s latest research report, School Dropout: Gender Mattersinterrogates common assumptions about gender and schooling by drawing contrasts and comparisons with the prevailing evidence. Far from reducing pupils to their gender, effective gender programming should expand how pupils of all genders view and experience the opportunities available to them, and offer a vibrant, safe learning environment for all.

Read the full article on the Daily Maverick.