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Minister, I must say there are no dropouts


“The FODE (Flexible Open Distance Education) students will study the same contents and they will sit for the same exams. So no one should be left behind. All students should be educated equally” - Education Minister Jimmy Uguro, Fee free option for dropouts, The National, 12 January 2021

“Dropout(s), noun: a person who has abandoned a course of study or who has rejected conventional society to pursue an alternative lifestyle, e.g. "a college dropout" (Oxford Languages)

LAE – Some people like to use the synonym ‘hippy’ or ‘free spirit’ instead of ‘dropout’ or, more disapprovingly, ‘rebel’ or ‘misfit’. And, with even less appreciation, ’loafer’, ‘deadbeat’, ‘bum’ or ‘bad boy’ (na ‘bad girl’ tu o?).

Dropout is a term first noted in the early 1930s and popularised in the United States in the 1950s to describe a person who abandons a course of study or forsakes society.

The term reached the height of its usage during the 1960’s era of ‘Flower Power’ when, in 1966, counter-culture guru Timothy Leary coined the slogan, “Turn on, tune in, drop out”.

When I was at school in the 1990’s the resource boom triggered by Bougainville’s copper and gold had elevated Papua New Guinea’s economy to a point where there was no good excuse for not finishing school and getting a job.

In my case, I didn’t get a proper job until two years after graduating university in 2001 so by that dumbass use of the term I was also a ‘dropout’ during that period.

I recall a great deal of family and social pressure; also the pity and stigmatism levelled against so-called ‘dropouts and failures’ in those days when I was a teenager and a vagrant ex-university sumatin.

It seems to me that we are not differentiating the terms we use for students who do not continue beyond a certain year of schooling, let alone manage to get a job.

During my school days that point of departure was after Grades 6, 10 and 12. Nowadays it’s Grades 8, 10 and 12.

The Department of Education’s strategy was to increase the number of years spent in school so leaving school after Grade 8, or ‘dropping out’, meant students had at least benefitted from an additional two years of formal education.

Dropouts for one reason or another have not completed a school course in which they were enrolled. But that does not necessarily mean that they were poorly educated. Nor does it mean would not be capable of passing an examination.

Failing an examination does not mean a pupil becomes a dropout.

It means the student still has something to learn.

That lesson may not have anything to do with an academic education.

The lesson may be vocational or technical or agricultural or entrepreneurial.

I believe it is worth reconsidering precisely what we mean by ‘dropout’ so we are in a proper mindset to deal with the reality of the education system and the unavoidable outcome of examinations.

Examinations  are designed to determine students’ specific functional abilities and test their individual areas of weakness and strength before further training.

There are always going to be school leavers and not all of them will receive a place at higher institutions within mainstream education.

I prefer to argue that there are no dropouts who pass through early education yet cannot secure a place within the next level of educational training. They’re more like downgraded potential employees.

Yes, it is semantics, but I believe it matters.

Some people call them ‘pushouts’ from the education system but they are still school leavers.

So why can’t we simply leave it at that? School leavers.

Most of our school leavers at the end of Grades 8, 10 and 12 did not abandon their school courses. They were effectively pushed out before they passed through the complete journey of formal education.

In essence what that outcome suggests is that those school leavers are probably suited to doing something else.

Most school leavers do not reject their society; it is more likely that their society rejects them by labelling them ‘dropouts’.

Education minister Jimmy Uguro is to be commended for helping our school leavers and their families to find what other training is available to find their best place in the world.

Education is about learning stuff that helps people survive and thrive in life. And learning is a lifelong process.

We should remember that before unnecessarily labelling our school leavers as dropouts.

The author assisted to tutor Grade 10 and 12 school leavers from 1994-97 at what is now the College of Distance Education. This program is now called Flexible Open Distance Education (FODE)


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