Channelling the energy and vibrancy of youth activism into dropout prevention strategies

The June 1976 protests have been credited with changing the socio-political landscape of the country and giving new impetus to the fight against Apartheid.

This movement set a precedent for youth activism, which not only had the potential to change individual schools and the education system but society at large. Since then, various youth-led movements have demonstrated the capacity of young people to agitate for change and make a difference in their communities.

“With youth activism in mind, we believe that learners have a role to play in reducing dropout in collaboration with educators, parents and communities,” says Merle Mansfield, Programme Director of the Zero Dropout Campaign.

Around 40% of learners who start Grade 1 exit the schooling system before completing matric. Even though a sizeable portion of the government’s budget is invested in education, the average child will only complete 9.3 years of schooling1)The World Bank. 2018. South Africa Human Capital Index Rank 126 out of 157. Available at: http://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/hci/ HCI_2pager_ZAF.pdf. In the poorest schools, this translates to just 5.1 years of actual learning2)In South Africa, this shortfall in number years of actual learning acquired can be attributed to a combination of factors, such as poor early childhood development, the quality of teaching learners receive, the change to second language in Grade 4, a focus on curriculum coverage rather than learning outcomes, Progression without remedial support..

“School culture in which there is bullying or physical punishment, or teachers are absent from class, can push learners away from school leading to dropout and exacerbating our youth unemployment crisis,” Mansfield explains.

To improve school culture, we need to create safe, nurturing, engaging, and enjoyable spaces where young people can focus on learning and personal development without fear of abuse or corporal punishment.

“During our outreach programmes, we spoke to learners about the factors leading to disengagement and dropout in disadvantaged communities,” she adds.

Mansfield says that some of the concerns emerging in the Western Cape include sexual harassment, bullying at the hands of learners linked to dangerous gangs, and a lack of trained counsellors or social workers to offer psychosocial support in schools.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has made the rollout of psychosocial support all the more pertinent because of heightened fear and stigma associated with the coronavirus,” she points out.

Mansfield says that learners can do their part to foster positive spaces by taking a stand against bullying and sexual harassment, by promoting inclusiveness, and supporting their peers who are struggling academically or socially.

“For instance, our implementing partner, the Khula Development Group (KDG) piloted a peer-to-peer approach in which learners mentored younger learners to become change agents in schools located in communities with high rates of drug addiction, illiteracy and dropout,” she explains.

In Kwa-Zulu Natal, our implementing partners at the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) found that corporal punishment was still in use in some rural and peri-urban schools, creating an environment in which learners did not feel supported.

“The reality is that not enough has been done to train teachers on how to get learners to cooperate without a punitive approach to discipline. The old model relied on adults using threats and violence to force young people to comply,” says Mansfield.

“We should be fostering an internal locus of control among learners themselves, and we can do this through youth engagement, their participation in various initiatives to improve school culture, and building relationships of mutual respect between young people and their teachers,” she says.

“At the end of the day, we find that institutionalising youth engagement can play a key role in transforming a school and addressing problems that feed directly into dropout,” Mansfield concludes. 

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Zero Dropout Communications Lead Rahima Essop.

References   [ + ]

1. The World Bank. 2018. South Africa Human Capital Index Rank 126 out of 157. Available at: http://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/hci/ HCI_2pager_ZAF.pdf
2. In South Africa, this shortfall in number years of actual learning acquired can be attributed to a combination of factors, such as poor early childhood development, the quality of teaching learners receive, the change to second language in Grade 4, a focus on curriculum coverage rather than learning outcomes, Progression without remedial support.