State officials are alarmed that in the last seven years, more than 5,000 students have dropped out of primary and secondary school. Documents submitted to Joint Select Committee (JSC) members which Guardian Media obtained gave a breakdown of the number of male and female dropouts in the eight educational districts in T&T between the years 2012 to 2019, which amounted to 5,074 students.
Of this figure, 2,980 were recorded as males at both the primary and secondary levels with 2,094 being females. Forms Three and Five had the highest percentage of male dropouts. It was also revealed that from early as Standard One, boys show signs of under-performing in the classroom. The dropouts have been occurring from Infants Year One to Fifth Form.
This has prompted the Ministry of Education (MOE) to launch an internal investigation to find the reasons behind the worrying trend.
On November 1, the JSC into Human Rights, Equality and Diversity chaired by Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly expressed concern at the dropout rate among the students and the fact that some have gone on to join criminal gangs. Officials of the University of the West Indies, University of T&T (UTT), UWI Roytec and the MOE appeared before the committee which examined the academic performance of boys in public primary and secondary schools.
Dr Judy Rocke, UTT’s programme leader, Centre for Education Studies said the university did a study to determine the reasons for the dropouts. Rocke identified lack of money, teachers not engaging students enough, poverty and students choosing jobs over education as some of the reasons.
•Statistics revealed that from 2014 to 2019 there were 2,607 male secondary school dropouts.
•At the primary level, 373 boys left school between 2012 and 2019.
•The number of female dropouts in secondary school was 1,868 with 226 leaving primary schools.
•A perusal of the statistics revealed that 2013-2014 recorded 151 male and female primary school dropouts—the highest figure to date.
•Seventy-one of these dropouts were from the Caroni educational district alone.
•The least amount of dropouts—31—were in 2016/2107.
•Interestingly, ten of these dropouts fell within the Caroni educational district.
•While Tobago recorded no dropouts for the years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, the figure skyrocketed to 12 in 2017-2018.
•From 2014 to 2017 a total of 3,134 secondary students left school—of this figure, 1,885 were males with 1,249 being females.
•The year 2014-2015 recorded the highest amount of male dropouts—669. The following year the figure dropped to 605, but increased to 611 in the 2016-2017 period.
•The bulk of the dropouts were from the education district of Caroni.
JSC members speak out
Member of the JSC Esmond Forde said he was perturbed that there were 82 male and 69 female primary school dropouts for the period 2013/2014 period alone. He concurred that some students who left school have been engaging in criminal activities.
JSC member Hazel Thompson-Ahye said the issue of dropouts had existed since 2009 and wondered if the authorities had been in "slumberland” for all these years, as the matter had been left unattended. Thompson-Ahye said dropouts have not been disappearing into the woodwork. Many of them, she said, have been joining gangs.
Gadsby-Dolly, meanwhile, said by not providing an education to these boys we have been exposing them to "nefarious activities."
She called on the ministry to establish a robust high-quality research department with dedicated staffing to procure data which will be used as a policy framework in tackling the lingering problem.
Garcia: Ministry tracking performance
Responding to the issue, Education Minister Anthony Garcia said students leave school for different reasons.
Chief among them is a lack of financing to enable some students to continue their education, while others opt to pursue a trade and some end up migrating with their families.
Garcia said the dropout rates from 2012 to present had crossed the 5,000 mark at primary and secondary schools and he was “very concerned about it.”
He admitted that the findings and recommendations at the JSC prompted the Division of Education and Research at the MOE to launch an internal investigation.
“It is not a matter of students just dropping out and doing nothing, children are leaving and going to other institutions for tertiary training and in many instances, they want to learn a trade.”
He said checks at private institutions would yield more data in this area.
However, Garcia admitted some students remained idle at home.
This, he said, was not an indictment on the ministry as they continued to fulfil their mandate to ensure schools remain functional.
Asked to respond to claims that some students have been dropping out of school to become members of criminal gangs, Garcia said this was pure speculation.
“I have no proof of this. Of course, there are a number of gangs in this country and the numbers are increasing, but I cannot say if there is a correlation between children who are alleged to have dropped out and the expansion of these gangs We are doing some investigations on our end because it is not enough to just state that children are dropping out because they want to join a gang.”
Garcia believes that while some students have been leaving school before time, it does not mean they are not being engaged in productive activities.
Education officials said while parents are required to inform school principals when a child is being withdrawn from school, there is no single rule compelling them to report why and the reasons behind it.
Garcia said the ministry had also started tracking the performance of students from Infants straight to Sixth Form.
Karim: It's disturbing
Weighing in on the issue, former tertiary education minister Fazal Karim described the dropouts rate as disturbing.
"It is very disheartening that so many young people are dropping out of the primary and secondary school system, some of whom are joining gangs."
Karim said the disproportionate number of males to females dropouts tells our education system is failing our young men while gang leaders are embracing them.
While the ministry expressed the need for a high-quality research unit to identify the core issue, Karim questioned why the Government stopped pumping money into the Higher Education Research Fund which falls under the ministry's remit.
That fund, Karim said, was designed to assist tertiary-level institutions in researching key areas of national priority of which crime and education should be a priority.
He said the actions of the Government are inverse to the solutions.
"It is no surprise that the problem has worsened in the past four years. In its current design, the Government has failed to deal with school dropouts which have been correlated to increases in gang membership. If the Government invests meaningfully in education and training, they will cut expenditure in our jails,” Karim said.
The issue of dropouts, Karim said, was multi-dimensional and requires careful thought and action.
•Proper diagnostic assessment of students.
•Systems to track at-risk students.
•Adequate psycho-social support, diversity in education and training opportunities, including technical/vocational. education and training to cater for diverse learning.
•Support systems for students constrained by socio-economic issues.