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Key areas to focus on for reducing schools’ dropout rate

Siboniso Bophela

17 May 2022

Multiple and multi-layered factors that play a part in learner dropout

Multiple factors

Contrary to popular belief, most learners don’t drop out because they are lazy or disinterested in school. Research has shown that dropout comes at the end of a long journey in which a learner is pushed or pulled away from school. Showing that school dropout is rarely about a single event. Some organisations have also found that making a difference in the home environment, through learners’ primary caregivers, can be an effective starting point to keep learners in school.


Some learners stay in and do well at school, despite challenging circumstances. Researchers studying their resilience have found that these youth often succeed because they have ‘personal anchors’ – stable, positive emotional relationships with at least one parent or key person. The community, the teacher, the parent, or the caregiver can all play a role in a learner's life; it takes persistence, consistency, and an open heart to cultivate a relationship of trust.


Our education system would benefit hugely from collecting accurate, detailed and regular information about schools and learners. Collecting the right types of information (data) over time can help us to better understand the needs in our education system, design better policy and programming, and track our progress. Learner-level information could help us flag which young people are most at risk of dropping out. However, how dropout information is currently recorded in the South African Schools Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS) is not well designed for this.

School culture

School culture in which there is bullying or physical punishment, or teachers are absent from class, can push learners away from school. To add to this, many South African school buildings are poorly maintained, under-resourced, and inadequately serviced. Vandalism, litter, overcrowded classrooms, or classrooms with missing doors and windows, can make school an unpleasant, even dangerous space to be in.

On the other hand, well-run and maintained schools can greatly improve children’s chances of success, even if they are disadvantaged by their home environments. Ideal schools should be sanctuaries of learning, curiosity, stimulation and safety; in which teachers are skilled, motivated and supported. Just like in the home, having caring, attentive adults at school can help struggling or vulnerable learners push on with their schooling



  • Racism, Poverty and/or Inequality


  • Gender, Disability, Pregnancy and/or Substance abuse


  • Domestic violence, Child-headed households and/or Pressure to leave school and earn money


  • Bullying, School culture, Corporal punishment, Falling behind academically, Relevance of the curriculum, Infrastructure and/or Resource problems

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