It’s high time we factor dropout into policy and planning frameworks and set reduction targets

On Tuesday, 6 October, the Zero Dropout Campaign addressed Members of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education about the country’s dropout crisis, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“School closures, together with the economic impact of the lockdown, have placed learners already at risk of dropout into deeper financial, psychosocial and academic distress. Now more than ever, we need to build resilience into our schooling system,” says Merle Mansfield, Programme Director of the Zero Dropout Campaign.

Mansfield says the first step involves factoring the issue of dropout into policy and planning frameworks and setting targets for dropout reduction.

“If we set targets for dropout, we will be able to hold national and provincial departments accountable for dropout statistics and the effectiveness of their interventions,” she adds.

“By shining a light on dropout at the highest level, we can set a cohesive plan into action that will ultimately lead to improved education outcomes for the system as a whole,” says Mansfield.

We can make our schooling system more resilient by collecting the right type of information about our learners in order to track disengagement and intervene before the child drops out.

“Collecting detailed and accurate information about our learners can inform a more attentive and effective education system in which every learner is supported to finish matric,” Mansfield explains

South Africa’s education system already has relatively strong information management systems, such as the School Administration Management System (SA-SAMS), the Learner Unit Record Tracking System (LURITS), and the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS).

However, these systems are not used effectively to track and prevent dropout due to the type of information collected, the manner in which the data is inputted and how the data is presented.

Largely, data is available at an aggregate level, which makes it difficult to develop diagnostic tools.

Instead, we need to track learner-level data that can be incorporated into an Early Warning System (EWS).

“Collecting learner-level data is an effective way to implement prevention strategies, offer support, and ensure that learners are not falling through the cracks,” Mansfield points out.

For an Early Warning System (EWS) to work well, we need to consistently track absenteeism, behaviour changes, and academic performance for each learner over their entire school career.

“Crucially, these indicators must be able to trigger psychosocial support mechanisms when a learner shows signs of disengagement,” Mansfield concludes.

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

Watch a livestream of the virtual meeting