School dropout is a complex issue with no easy fix. There are no silver bullets to complex problems, but individuals can make a difference when empowered with the right tools and information to do so. This is the type of thinking that drives Yethu Network of Schools – a programme of the Zero Dropout Campaign founded on the principle that dropout prevention is a collective responsibility. Individual actions add up, and together we can achieve Zero Dropout.
Tefo Gaebetse and Frederick Ocansey, Champion Teachers from Ncweng Primary in the Northern Cape, recently showcased the power of the individual to enact positive change. Gaebetse and Ocansey teach in an under-resourced community where dropout is commonplace due to socio-economic circumstances. These Champion Teachers’ activities and outreach extend beyond their school, as they work in a primary school and dropout tends to peak in high school.
When Gaebetse was notified that a female learner had not returned to school since January this year, he decided to follow up with her and her family. He enlisted the help of his colleague Ocansey. They wanted to find out what was going on in the learner’s life so that they could support her to return to class. Often, the decision to drop out comes at the end of a long process of disengagement in which a learner is pushed or pulled away from school due to factors at home, at school and in their communities. Disengagement — or gradually disconnecting from schooling and learning — takes place within a complex web of factors linked to psychosocial issues and academic performance.
To find out what those factors were in the case of the female learner, Gaebetse and Ocansey met with the girl and her mother to better understand their situation.
“The young girl is very intelligent and she was able to express her feelings well,” says Gaebetse. It was at this meeting that Gaebetse and Ocansey learnt that the learner’s older sister had also dropped out after becoming pregnant. Once the teachers had established the barriers that led to these girls leaving school, Ocansey was able to contact external stakeholders in his community to assist with reintegrating them.
“The Grade 9 learner has since agreed to return to school, although a different school that she was previously enrolled in. Her older sister has also agreed to continue with her studies,” says Gaebetse.
Both girls will receive ongoing counselling from Partners for Possibility to ensure they get the care and support they need to stay in school.
Gaebetse and Ocansey’s experience shows how individual role players can work together to build systems of support for learners.