[WATCH] Study finds life is significantly harder for students who leave school early

A Maltese study has showed that reducing early school leaving can be accomplished by repositioning the issue as a serious challenge to social justice and a symptom of an asymmetric society  

A high proportion of early school leavers end up experiencing deprivation in all aspects of their lives
A high proportion of early school leavers end up experiencing deprivation in all aspects of their lives

A high portion of early school leavers end up experiencing deprivation in all aspects of their lives, a local study has shown, highlighting the need for interventions early on in childhood to address the issue.

The study, Early School Leaving and Personal and Social Wellbeing, showed that one of the most important ways of reducing the early school leaving rate is to reposition the issue as a serious challenge to social justice and a symptom of an asymmetric society.

The sphere of Early Leaving from Education and Training (ELET) encompasses all 18 to 24-year-olds who have failed to obtain at least five Secondary Education Certificate passes at grades 1 to 7 and are not currently in education and training.

Professor Carmel Borg from the President's National Observatory for Living with Dignity, which carried out the study, said that, while some improvements had been registered – the ELET rate has fallen from 27.1% in 2009 to 17.5% in 2017 – Malta still had a significantly higher rate of early school leavers than the European Union average.

“These are people who have left formal education without the proper qualifications,” Borg said, highlighting that, the rate of 17.5% didn’t even reflect the number of students who merely managed five SEC passes at grade 7.

“50% of our labour force is operating at a very low-skill level,” he pointed out.

Borg said that the greatest contributor to early school leaving socio-economic status.

“W are talking about low socio-economic status young people, mainly boys,” he said, “We need to put human beings against these statistics, and we can see a strong correlation between socio-economic status and educational achievements.”

Gender is another factor linked to a high ELET rate, he said, though this is not as strongly correlated as socio-economic status. Geographical and sectorial factors also come to play, but to a lesser degree, he said.

Borg noted that Malta had taken steps to address this, having put a 10-year strategy in place to address it’s high ELET rate.

ELET’s ‘enormous’ negative impact

Professor Milosh Raykov, a researcher on ELET, said the impact of early school leaving on young people and on their social and mental wellbeing was “enormous”.

“Early school leavers experience more difficulties than their counterparts,” Raykov said, “We also have evidence that mental health is worse in early school leavers, and they are less satisfied with all aspects of their lives. Most of them experience social exclusion and are disengaged from social processes and are less functional as citizens.”

Their personal incomes are significantly lower too, with more than 80% of them receiving amongst the lowest salaries.

The most striking result, he said, was the deprivation which early school leavers experience in all aspects of their lives. This also prevents them from being able to adequately provide for the education of their children.

Encouraging improvement rate

The most recent National Statistics Office and Eurostat data shows that Malta has one of the highest ELET rates in Europe, Raykov noted, adding however that it had also made one of th largest improvements. “Malta has made great improvements. Only a few countries have made greater strides forward.”

Certain countries, such as Lithuania, have made bigger improvements than Malta, and this, he said, was likely linked to the economic trouble in those countries, which is a factor which leads to people pursuing more education.

He said that Malta could continue to reduce its rate of early school leavers by 2020, noting however that this was more challenging for boys than it was for girls.

Turning to the the causes of early school leaving, Raykov said it was the result of a long-term process of disengagement, meaning it was possible to address.

Evidence-based prevention, early identification and intervention are amongst the best tools to deal with the rate of ELET, he said.  

Borg explained that a lack of opportunities and encouragement for upskilling in their employment, which is usually non-unionised and precarious, leads ELETs to enter a spiral out of which it is very difficult to emerge.

In this regard, membership of a union is conducive towards helping the status of ELETs, he said.

Another major issue behind ELET is the “parental gap”, Borg explained, whereby, although many ELETs’ families are normal and loving, they are rarely present in their children’s educational life.

Position ELET as challenge to social justice

ELET needs to be repositioned as a serious challenge to social justice and as symptomatic of an asymmetrical society, if the problem is to be solved, Borg said.

Policies in this regard must be based on research, he underlined. “To build policies without research is lethal. The state cannot research itself, it has to be an independent institution which does this type of research. And it doesn’t always have to be European money which funds this, it should be national funds – a national investment.”

“If we want early childhood education to do its job, we have to put social justice before economy,” Borg stressed.

An economic capital war against poverty has to also take place, he said. “We cannot address the issue of ELET unless we address the issue of poverty and material deprivation.”

Family-based early childhood education is also fundamental. “The family has to be responsibalised from the very beginning. Early child education is family and community oriented.”

Another important recommendation was to put in place a system of high-quality educators.

Furthermore, a mental health and emotional support unit, should be established, which is highly specialised and addresses the issues connected to ELET, Borg added.

More in National