This guest post is by Albert Motivans, Head of Education Indicators and Data Analysis Section at Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS).
There is an urgent need to face the issue of high numbers of children who are repeating grades and leaving school before completing primary or lower secondary education. New data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) show that, globally, about 32.2 million primary pupils were held back a grade in 2010, and 31.2 million dropped out of school and may never return.
The latest edition of the Global Education Digest, entitled Opportunities Lost: The Impact of Grade Repetition and Early School Leaving, presents a wide range of UIS data and indicators that help to better identify the millions of children who are falling through the cracks in education systems and leaving school, often without being able to read or write. The report is complemented by an on-line interactive tool which allows users to visualize repetition and dropout rates by grade in the region and country of their choice.
The challenges to complete primary school are greatest in three regions:
– Sub-Saharan Africa, where about one in six pupils will leave school before reaching Grade 2 and two in five pupils will leave before the last grade;
– South and West Asia, where for every 100 pupils who start primary school, 33 will leave before the last grade;
– Latin America and the Caribbean, where 17% of pupils leave school before completing primary education.
The Digest also highlights some potential good news, namely that the global repetition rate has fallen by 7% between 2000 and 2010 even though there many more children entered primary school, with enrolment rates rising by 6% during the same period. Yet, high repetition rates persist in many countries.
In countries such as Burundi or Togo, a child starting school today can expect to spend, on average, two to three years repeating a primary grade. In the case of Burundi, if the resources spent on repeating a grade were instead invested in enrolling new pupils, the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) could grow by 1.3%, according to the Digest. Overall, it is estimated that each year of education a child receives (not repeating a grade) could increase her/his individual earnings by 10% and lift annual GDP globally by 0.37%.
In general, girls are less likely than boys to enter school, but boys are slightly more likely than girls to repeat grades and are also at greater risk of dropping out, according to the Digest. The age of pupils can be another determining factor: under-age pupils are more likely to repeat a grade, while over-age pupils tend to leave school early. Yet, according to the data, the most important factors which relate to educational progression are household wealth and geographic location. In general, poor children living in rural areas are more likely than urban children from better-off households to repeat grades and leave school before completing primary education and attaining basic foundation skills, like literacy and numeracy.
What are the policy options? The main objectives are to keep children in school and reduce the over-use of grade repetition. To better inform this debate, the report presents the most recent results of learning assessments among primary pupils and examines the economic costs associated with high rates of grade repetition and dropout. While it is important to provide various routes back into learning for children who drop out, overall, the data show that it is far more difficult and costly to reach children once they leave school than it is to address the barriers and bottlenecks operating within schools (OR replace bottlenecks that lead them astray). But for these interventions to be effective, they must be precise and timely. For example, great gains can be made by improving the quality of education provision in early grades while better identifying and supporting children facing the greatest risk of leaving school. And while the use of grade repetition may serve learning goals for a small number of children in more developed countries, it may increase the risk of early school leaving for a very large number of children in less developed countries.