Zero Dropout Campaign

There are numerous inspiring stories of educators making profound contributions in their student’s lives, despite working in difficult circumstances. In the book, Great South African Teachers1, the authors came up with seven profiles of inspirational teachers based on accounts from former learners. The authors explained that it’s often teachers who go beyond the call of duty in class, and after hours, who are the most inspirational.

In this article, we consider the everyday hurdles that make it difficult for teachers to play the role of an inspirational and supportive adult. We also look at how our NPO implementing partners have, in various ways, sought to support schools and their staff to understand the incredibly influential role they can play in transforming their schools.

Dealing with a heavy workload

The focus on curriculum coverage puts pressure on teachers to prioritise the tasks of getting through the curriculum and ensuring the National Senior Certificate (NSC) results are as high as possible. This leaves little space for teachers to address the needs of learners who are falling behind academically and need extra support. While focused on their most urgent tasks, teachers simply cannot concentrate on assisting learners who are at risk of dropping out.

Dropout is normalised

Schools seldom have a clear understanding of the real scale of dropout that affects them and the communities they serve. They tend to focus on the learners who are registered in a particular year, rather than the pathway of an individual learner through the school system.

Principals and teachers will often see dropout as the number of learners who left the school during a calendar year (typically only a handful), rather than the attrition of the whole cohort between grade 8 and 12. Often, those principals who do realise the scale of grade repetition and dropout feel powerless to do anything about it.

Training and retention

South Africa has a poor teacher training, recruitment and retention landscape. A 2013 study found that the education system needs between 25 000 and 30 000 teachers every year, yet the higher education and training system can only produce about 6 000 to 8000 teachers per year.

Lessons from our implementing partners

Modelling a nurturing approach

Through their mentorship programme and the use of the Check & Connect method, the Masibumbane Development Organisation (MDO) has shown the schools they operate in that learners can be positively impacted through caring adult support, psychosocial interventions, family engagement, and referrals to other professional services (e.g. for drug addiction).

“The check and connect programme helps because some of them come from parents who are demotivated. When the social worker is helping them you at least see the child is motivated. If I’m having a problem, I’ll ask the social worker to help. Then she would talk to them. Since she’s familiar to them, they will listen to her. She knows how to talk to them.” – Xoliswa Adonis, Grade 7 teacher in Duncan Village.

Strengthening existing support systems

Learner Support Agents (LSAs) are an initiative of the Department of Basic Education. They are matric graduates recruited by schools from the local community for the purpose of supporting various aspects of school life pertaining to the needs of learners. They are, however, unqualified and inexperienced, often being used by schools for little more than administrative work and a few after-school activities.

The National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) signed a memorandum of understanding with the KwaZulu-Natal DBE to train LSAs at schools in one district in Child and Youth Care Work (CYCW) and to mentor them.

Having a trained person working on a holistic support programme, which includes individual psychosocial support and home visits, is a major step towards creating a more nurturing school environment that cares for at-risk learners.

Getting teacher buy-in to prevent dropout

The Khula Development Group (KDG) and Community Action Partnership (CAP), operating in Paarl and Swellendam respectively, have found that teachers are overworked and often feel unappreciated. These organisations realised that introducing teacher appreciation initiatives was crucial to win them over and obtain their full buy-in for dropout prevention strategies.

1Jansen, J., N. Koza and L. Toyana (2011). Great South African Teachers: A Tribute to South Africa’s Great Teachers from the People Whose Lives They have Changed. Johannesburg: Bookstorm.