Zimbabwe’s Efforts to Keep Learners in School

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Fall-out factors

Doll, et al. (2013) also identified fall-out factors, referring to instances in which the learner is not forced or lured out by anything outside school, but drops out because he/she fails to cope or fit into the culture of the school due to his/her particular individual characteristics. In such cases, the learner continues to gradually disengage from school activities, dissociating him/herself and ultimately falls out. Disengagement is usually marked by high absenteeism, the skipping of classes, late-coming and/or late attendance of classes, talking negatively about school, avoiding participation in school activities or finding it hard to adjust to school routine (Rumberger, 2011). Fall-out factors could, thus, be viewed as either a lack of ‘personal educational support’ or the side effects of push-out and/or pull-out factors (Doll, et al., 2013, p. 293). Constituting factors like these, according to Green and Winters (2005), are typically either personality traits – short-sightedness/lack of vision – and/or personal principles which impact negatively the learner’s school achievements and life outcomes. Sigei and Tikoko (2014) add that the learner ultimately gives up hope of completing school mainly because they lack intrinsic motivation and/or because they do not see significant progress in their schoolwork. In sharing their lived experiences of school dropout with me during the course of my study, EScLs would be providing me with data which would either confirm or reject the claims made by the afore-mentioned researchers.
Bridgeland, et al. (2006) carried out a survey to establish the causes of school dropout among 15 to 16-year old early school leavers in twenty-five different locations throughout the USA. In the sense that the study was aimed at getting a more in-depth picture of the characteristics of those who had dropped out, to determine why they had left school prematurely and to ascertain what could have been done to keep them in school until graduation, this study was very similar to mine. The research findings of this study indicate that predictors of school dropout which ranked high on the list of dropout causes/reasons included “uninteresting classes, (47%): having missed many days therefore unable to catch up (43%); spending time with people not interested in school (42%)’ too much freedom, and not many rules in life (38%), and failing at school (35%)” (Bridgeland, et al, 2006, pp.3-9). While this study focused on EScLs, data collected was statistical thus, according to my earlier reasoning, lacked depth as regards the analysis of dropout causes, a gap that I attempt to address by means of my study, To this purpose, I opted to do qualitative case study research – the case being a group of EScLS in Zimbabwe – using qualitative data collection methods (interviews and life story writing) to gain an in-depth understanding of their school dropout experiences.
Ramsay (2008, p.37) observes that Australian governments have, for a quarter of a century, been trying to find the means to minimize premature school exit “so that more young people are retained” and successfully finish secondary education. One of the reasons established by research in Australia was that secondary schools had not been addressing the needs of learners, particularly those who were non-university bound (Ramsay, 2008). Consequently, 30% of learners in Australia would drop out before completing Grade 12 (Ramsay, 2008; Rumberger, 2004). Other contributing factors were similar to those in the US: gender, low socio-economic status, cultural status (being non-English, for example), and poor school achievement grades.

Dropping Out: Process or event?

The discussion under triggers of early school leaving suggests that learners are either pulled or pushed out or, in certain cases, simply fall out. Be that as it may, dropping out of school, according to Finn (2005), Bridgeland et al. (2006), is never sudden, nor can it be viewed as an event. According to Finn (2005) and Bridgeland, et al (2006), there seems to be a pattern (or a pathway) to dropping out of school, one characterised by erratic school attendance patterns and other types of behaviour which are early signs/signals of disengagement (Rudduck & Fielding, 2006). Specific observations by Bridgeland et al. (2006, pp. 8-9) include refusing to wake up in the morning, extending lunchtime, missing classes and truancy. While research studies prior to those by Finn (2005) and Rumberger and Lim (2008) did not clearly explain the the process of premature school exit, they do include observations which provided me with useful directions towards first establishing, and then closing the knowledge gap related to the premature dropping out of school process.
Finn (2005) points out that continuous failure in class, for instance, is an antecedent to withdrawal/dropout. Initially causing low self-esteem, it ultimately manifests in problem behaviours. Non-participation in school activities is another signal of potential withdrawal/dropout, gradually leading to less and less identification with the institution, a process which affects the learner emotionally and behaviourally because he/she longs for, but has no company. Finn’s observations were particularly critical to my study since I endeavoured to establish the process of dropping out. During data generation, I asked direct and explicit questions seeking about this process: when the EScL started thinking about dropping out; how it all started, and what could possibly have triggered the idea. Based on Finn’s (2005) observations, the purpose of my study was to understand, from the EScLs’ perceptions, features of school which they believe directly influence learners’ participation and identification with their schools, failing which they tend to fall out.
Similarly, Ramberger and Lim (2008) in the US reviewed 203 published studies which analysed data collected at local, state and national levels. The aim was to identify statistically significant predictors of school dropout and graduation. One of the key findings was that experiences in the elementary school may affect attitudes, behaviours and performance later in secondary school. Ramberger and Lim (2008) also observe that an individual’s characteristics, especially during early adolescence, mark the beginning of a downward trend which may result in academic failure, which inevitably lead to the learner leaving school prematurely. Adolescent learners are also believed to be prone to test/examination anxiety, resulting in school grades declining and interest and intrinsic motivation diminishing.
Based on their study, Ramberger and Lim (2008) conclude that school dropout is the culmination of experiences over a long time, suggesting, once again, that it is a process rather than an event. The study does not, however, include any evidence supporting this claim. It means while there has been some effort in attempting to answer my third research question on what entails the process of dropping out of school, the specific experiences and steps followed are not explicit. This further justifies the importance of my study as it sought to establish how the EScLs in the study went through the process as they would narrate personal experiences. Rumberger (2011), too, argues that dropping out is the final stage of a process which starts at some point in the learner’s school life. In my study EScLs were required to describe their experiences, including activities and specific events to enable me to test not only these claims but also Bronfenbrenner’s (2005) contention that behaviour is always influenced by experiences. By implication, school dropout behaviour, the focus of my study, should also be influenced by learner experience. More specifically, my argument was that negative interactions between the learner and the institutions (micro-system) surrounding the youths are likely to form part of the process of dropping out of school. It was to test these claims, and the validity of my argument, that I decided to collect data on the behaviour of the EScLs participating in my study.
Important to my study was the collection of data on participating EScLs views regarding the mechanisms typically used to groom youths – including the parenting styles to which they were exposed – since I believed that such data would enhance my understanding of the dropout phenomenon in Zimbabwe. My research was, thus, a well-placed attempt to fill existing gaps in knowledge about the process of dropping out, based on the perspectives of EScLs. This was one of the key objectives of my study.

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Chapter 1 Focus and Scope of the Study
1.1 Introduction
1.2 What is School Dropout?
1.3 The Concepts ‘Experience’ and ‘Premature School Exit’
1.4 The Education System in Zimbabwe
1.5 Zimbabwe’s Efforts to Keep Learners in School
1.6 Defining the Problem
1.7 Rationale for the Study
1.8 Purpose of the study
1.9 Research Questions
1.10 Conceptual Framework
1.11 Theoretical Framework
1.12 Key Concepts
1.14 Outline of the Chapters
Chapter 2 Understanding the School Dropout Phenomenon
2.1 Introduction
2.2 What are the Benefits of Education?
2.3 Conceptualisation of School Dropout
2.4 Triggers of School Dropout: Pull, Push, Fall-out Factors
2.5 Dropping Out: Process or event?
2.6 Consequences of Dropping out
2.7 Mitigating the School Dropout Problem
2.8 Declaration of the Known: Highlights from Literature
2.9 Insights, Gaps and Focus of Study
2.10 Theoretical Framework for Understanding School Dropout Behaviour
2.11 Summary
Chapter 3 Methodology
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Qualitative Research: Interpretive Paradigm
3.3 Multiple Case Study Research Design
3.4 My Role as a Researcher
3.5 Bounding the Study
3.6 Ethical Considerations
3.7 Data Generation Strategies
3.8 Data Analysis Procedure: Thematic Analysis
3.9 Quality Criteria/ Verification
3.10 Summary
Chapter 4 Results and Findings: Conceptualisation and Triggers of School Dropout
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Demographic Profile of the Participants
4.3 Themes and Categorisation of Results
4.4 Summary
Chapter 5 Understanding School Dropout in Zimbabwe: Process, Impact and Solutions
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Theme 3: The Process of Dropping Out of School
5.3 Theme 4: Impact of dropping out on EScLs’ Lives
5.4 Theme 5: Beliefs about What Could Solve the Dropout Problem in Zimbabwe
5.5 Placing Findings against Existing Literature: Confirmations, Contradictions and Silences
5.6 Summary
Chapter 6 Consolidated Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Major Findings/ New Knowledge
6.3. Proposed framework for curbing school dropout in Zimbabwe
6.4 Contribution of the study
6.6 Limitations of the Study
6.7 Recommendations
6.8 Concluding Remarks


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