How to Combat Student Dropout
For much of 2020, the global education sector screeched to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of students suddenly found themselves out of school, wondering how these lost months would affect their future. The kids of Rwanda were not exempt from this turmoil, as a seven-month-long school closure rocked the country. Though most schools are now back in session and the work to reclaim these lost months is underway, the prolonged shutdown has exacerbated an already devastating issue: student dropout.
What is Student Dropout?
All it takes is one look inside a P1 classroom in Rwanda to know the enrollment rates of young children are high. Kids crowd around desks, eagerly raising their hands to answer questions. Yet a stroll down the classroom block reveals a different picture. In P6, the final year of primary school, classrooms are far less crowded. In Rwanda, more and more children—particularly girls—drop out with each passing year in their education. Tragic consequences stem from this, such as grinding poverty, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and increased rates of teen pregnancy and childhood mortality.
One prevailing reason behind dropout is poverty and a lack of parental understanding about the importance of education. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing a devastating increase in poverty, combating student dropout is critical as schools reopen. During school closures, many parents relied upon their children to help in the fields or watch their siblings. Because many of these parents were unable to finish their own education, they don’t always see the necessity of sending their children back to school when there are more urgent concerns, such as not having enough money to put food on the table. But education is one of the most crucial elements to breaking the cycle of poverty. When a child is equipped through quality education with knowledge, skills, and character, they have increased economic potential, deeper personal empowerment, and more opportunities for the future. Their possibilities are limitless.
This is why Wellspring has made it a priority to combat student dropout. Every child deserves an education, no matter their circumstances. But how do we overcome the barriers that keep children from the classroom? That’s exactly the question we’re answering through the new community-owned SCAN initiative, an innovative approach to reducing drop out and fostering collaboration among school and community leaders.
What is SCAN?
School Community Advisor Networks (SCAN) are composed of six key community members—teachers, parents, leaders—in each of our partner schools in Gasabo and Rubavu Districts. These groups share a common goal: reach out to the most vulnerable children in the community and ensure they have a path back to school.
In October 2020, Wellspring trainers held sessions to equip SCAN teams to identify a locally specific strategy to combat dropout. While we’re excited to offer this training, the idea is that each community will make this initiative their own. They best understand the needs of their community and the most effective way to reach out to those in need. Not only does this result in the empowerment of local leaders, a core component of Wellspring’s philosophy, but it also leads to a changed mindset about the responsibility of drop out, wherein a community takes responsibility for the future of its children.
After the training, SCAN teams gave up their evenings and weekends to visit vulnerable families in their communities. SCAN members sat with parents, listened to their stories, and encouraged them about their responsibility in their child’s education. These conversations uncovered root causes of dropout and helped create local solutions for children to return to school. In some cases, SCAN members themselves provided material support like food, mosquito nets, school supplies, and uniforms. For others, it was the counselling that helped parents realize the future opportunities their child would miss without an education.
Amazing results are already emerging from these local efforts. At one school, only 50 children were present in P6 classrooms when schools reopened. Within a week of SCAN home visits, another 30 students returned to class!
SCAN efforts are going beyond helping children return to school by ensuring their return is as graceful as possible. Through training, Wellspring team members helped schools understand that they need to be ready to support children who will be vulnerable and may experience bullying because of their experiences during the lockdown. One school established an Auntie Room, where trusted female teachers are available for students (particularly girls) to report problems at home, bullying, or mental health struggles. Another provided support for young mothers by offering school supporters to watch over children while the mothers study. These students were also able to write their exams in private rooms while nursing their babies. These are huge steps towards inclusive education!
What Does This Mean in the Community?
The benefits of SCAN are far-reaching, stretching beyond the individual lives of children who are brought back into the quality education they deserve. Teachers who served as SCAN members have spoken about the deeper understanding of their students brought about by this initiative. Now that they understand the life circumstances of their students, they’re able to bring this knowledge back into the classroom. One teacher even shared how they now structure their lessons so that their students’ wellbeing is always at the forefront.
“Every day when I start my lessons, I tell my students, “I am here for you”. I lend my ears to my students because I want to know how they are doing mentally, emotionally, and physically before I get to teaching the lesson of the day.”
Community leaders have also expressed their excitement about how this approach is helping them reach out into the community. One team shared how Wellspring’s training and SCAN have revolutionized the way they approach student dropout.
“The way we are doing this now is the right way. Before, we used police to punish parents and bring children back by force. Now, we understand the real problems of families by talking with [them].”
Looking to the Future
While SCAN was intended to be a short-term project to deal with the immediate consequences of pandemic related school closures, many communities are planning to keep SCAN teams as a permanent part of their school ecosystem. Every child who returns to school thanks to the efforts of SCAN is more than a number on a page. They are individuals with valuable life stories and significant futures that have yet to unfold. Now, these children have a future that includes a quality education, one that will help them break the cycle of poverty and fulfil their God-given potential. That’s worth celebrating!