School dropouts continue to rise; Is there a solution?

Amrutha G | May 30, 2019 | 6 min read


The report card of government schools in Karnataka is quite poor, if these numbers are anything to go by — as many as 8,318 children (63%) dropped out of school at the start of the 2017-18 academic year, according to a state survey under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Among these, 7,807 were between the ages of seven and 13 years.

While the survey for the academic year 2018-19 isn’t complete yet, sources say the data collected so far is even more alarming — the number of dropouts is thrice that of the previous academic year!

Government schools, in general, have a bad reputation. And while there are stellar exceptions, the quality of education in most is sub-standard, discouraging many children and parents from continuing, especially in the face of financial constraints.


Teachers list the prime problems
Bhagya Lakshmi, a teacher since the last 12 years who owned the Sri Sapthagiri English Medium School in Bengaluru’s Srinivasnagar, explains it precisely. “There’s a plethora of reasons behind children dropping out — financial problems force parents to pull their wards out; the illiterate don’t let their children continue either; and a poor and de-motivating environment discourages the kids themselves from attending. There’s also constant pressure from teachers and parents when it comes to the rank race. All this takes a tremendous toll on students,” she says. 

“Educators and the government need to work together to provide real and long-term solutions to tackle the dropout rate. For starters, a good environment on the school premises can be ensured to encourage students — making studies engaging and interesting by introducing activities and removing the ranking system will go a long way, as will simplification of syllabus and learning concepts. Also, financial support and counselling should be provided to parents, making them aware about the importance of education. These measures will help in keeping more children in schools.” 

Echoing Lakshmi, Suneetha T, a government school teacher since 15 years in K R Puram, says, “I have myself witnessed students stopping their education; as a teacher, there’s nothing sadder than that. Parents’ negligence and ignorance, besides financial constraints, is the primary reason… Then, there’s also distance that plays a spoilsport — many students live far from their schools, and the daily commute discourages them from continuing their studies.

“The best way to nip the problem in the bud is to educate parents about the numerous government schemes. Also, schools must give the education department regular updates on students dropping out, so that officials can find out why and take timely and appropriate action. In cases of poor finances, schools can join hands with NGOs and organisations to raise funds for students belonging to the economically weaker section.” 

Education experts also cite health issues and single parenthood as reasons behind teenagers dropping out of schools.

Sheela Prakash, an educator since 25 years and a lecturer at NMKRV college, says, “Being a single parent can be hard, and doubly so if the parent has health and financial issues. In such a scenario, educating one’s child will take a backseat. Besides improving quality of education, the government along with private schools must create awareness among people on the importance of education. Each student should be given individual attention, and regular meetings should be held with parents, to identify problems early on and fix them before anyone takes the drastic step of dropping out."


Schemes galore but beneficiaries few?

The Karnataka Education Department has introduced various educational schemes and programmes, including SSA, which preaches education for all. Also, Rs 3,000 per child per annum is allocated for the education of children with special needs — children with mental or physical disabilities, who can’t go to their local schools, can be home-schooled. 

Yet, as the figures show, it doesn’t seem to have benefited thousands. Fifteen-year-old Lakshmi from Belgaum is an example. “I attended school for five years, but later, due to financial problems, my parents pulled me out and asked me to help them run the household. I don’t know how to read or write, nor do I remember anything I studied in school. My two younger siblings go to school regularly though; watching them study makes me ache and wish I, too, could, instead of working as a maid with my mother in the neighbourhood,” she rues.

A maid in Bengaluru, Nagamma recounts her daughter's case. “We sent her to a government school for three years; while she was in lower primary, my two sons were in high school, so they had different timings. It became difficult for me and my husband, a vegetable vendor, to drop and pick her up daily; and we were scared to let her go on her own, as the school is quite far from our home. We had no option but to pull her out.”

Nagamma and her husband want to enrol their daughter in school again, but they aren't aware of how to avail the government schemes.

The other state schemes, implemented to act as incentives for children and parents, are bicycles for girls, free uniforms and books for poor students, and mid-day meals across government schools in Karnataka. The government has also issued free bus passes to all students in rural areas, claiming that around 19.6 lakh pupils benefited from it, and it also has an anti-ragging policy in place.

But given the statistics, and the reasons cited by teachers for the high dropout rate, it is clear that these schemes and measures are not enough, and the state government needs a different plan of action.

B K Basavaraju, former director of primary education, says, “Gender discrimination is prevalent in many places across the state, including cities — many parents don’t allow their daughters to continue their studies after a certain age. For this, there needs to be more awareness. But in many cases, the problem has a simpler solution — several schools have their primary and high school classes in separate buildings that are away from each other; so students drop out after Std VII. The myth that high school education is not necessary and that primary education covers all basics also contributes to teenagers not completing their Stds VIII, IX and X. Simplest would be if schools had both sections on the same premises.

“All government schools, especially the ones in remote rural areas, must have CCTVs and guards on premises. This, I believe, will help in assuring parents of their wards’ safety away from home. Innovative teaching methods coupled with qualified teachers will further improve state schools’ standing in the eyes of students and parents.”

Despite repeated attempts, Dr P C Jaffer, commissioner for public instruction at the state education department, remained unavailable for comment.

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