Here’s what Contributes To Learners Dropping Out Of School

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The pandemic has caused a rise in the number of learners not attending school and who may permanently drop out of school. Here are the factors which contribute to learners dropping out of school.


In November 2021, the Basic Education Department (DBE) revealed that approximately 200 000 learners did not return to school during a six month period. Even before Covid-19, about 40% of learners who started school in Grade 1 would drop out before completing Grade 12.

An in-depth report was published by the Zero Dropout Campaign which explored several factors that could contribute to learners dropping out of school. These factors include household income, geography, disability and gender. 

The report examined how gender intersects with social inequalities, such as race, household income and geography, to shape learners’ experiences at, and disengagement from, school. 

School Dropout: Gender Matters pits powerful societal assumptions about gendered experiences of schooling against local and international research and qualitative data.

According to Merle Mansfield, Programme Director of the Zero Dropout Campaign, “the report’s findings may surprise the average reader, compelling the basic education sector to rethink its approach to dropout prevention.” 

Mansfield stated that integrating gender into dropout prevention demands a context-specific, inclusive and intentional approach.

“With a fresh perspective, policymakers and education role-players may be in a better position to build more responsive programmes, policies and systems,” she said.

Dropping out of school is not an isolated event, it comes at the end of a long process of disengagement in which learners are pulled away from school because of circumstances at home, school or in their neighbourhoods.

The report stated that gender is among the many social, psychological and economic factors that disrupt learners’ journeys through school. 

Rather than being encouraged to complete their schooling, most learners in under-resourced communities get stuck in cycles of grade repetition or drop out of school.

Mansfield pointed out that “research shows that while dropout rates are high among learners of all genders, boys in South Africa are more likely to drop out, especially as they enter secondary school.”

One would assume that female learners would be more likely than male learners to drop out because they are at greater risk of gender-based violence and unintended pregnancy.

The report found that pregnant learners are bullied by peers and teachers, and are discouraged or banned from attending school.

For many growing up in underprivileged communities, obtaining a Grade 12 certificate is an opportunity to study further or enter the labour market.

More than half of those unemployed South Africans do not have a matric certificate, which limits their social and economic participation and affects their mental and physical health.

According to the report, supporting learners on their journey to matric needs a dropout prevention plan that is responsive to gender inequalities. 

Far from reducing learners to their gender, effective gender programming should broaden how learners view and experience opportunities available to them and offer a vibrant, safe learning environment for all.

“For effective dropout prevention, the report recommends tracking, monitoring and understanding learner-level data, and identifying gendered trends in school disengagement so that schools can respond to early warning signs with psychosocial support,’” said Mansfield.

The report suggests that schools, households, and society work together to build effective partnerships, tackle gender injustice and build networks of support around learners.


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