In an investigation of early school leaving (ESL) from an Asian and European Lifelong Learning (ASEM LLL) perspective, the ‘voices’ of 18- to 24-year-old early school-leavers were analysed in terms of the situation ‘one is in, why one is in it, and what one can do to get out’. We found evidence that a set of complex multifaceted reasons lead to ESL and we identified the need to implement a targeted ESL preventive strategy.
Professor Dr. habil. paed. Irina Maslo, University of Latvia, Latvia
Early school-leavers – returners to education and training in later life stages
Mostly, ESL is the result of a combination of subjective and objective reasons such as financial considerations (the cost of transport or internet access), the need to work (not always for earning money, but sometimes spurred by the need to feel like an adult or to get work experience), the birth of a child, army obligations, previous learning experiences, unwillingness to learn, all of which are interconnected. It is necessary to mention the following objective reason, which has to be prevented: limited possibilities of combining schooling with work mainly because there is no school close to home (due to living in a rural location or by getting a job abroad).
Two ESL-target sub-groups are evident.The first sub-group is characterised by high self-esteem and a personal drive to return to learning in later life stages. They plan their own learning pathways, and have a strong motivation to get schooling whatever their life and work situation. For example, after getting a compulsory basic school education they would acquire a vocational qualification, and after that they would return to evening school to get a general secondary education. They are able to solve their own life and work situation by themselves, and to return to education without any external support
The second sub-group needs support inside or outside their life and working situation. There is evidence that ESL is influenced by those around them: ‘a friend’, ‘my husband’, ‘my brother’, ‘someone’, etc. In a very small number of cases, the advice or support of parents was reported. Early school-leavers also pointed out the need to have someone older around to give support and encouragement in life and work situations. The cultural environment of the family, as well as the social environment of early school-leavers, plays a role. This confirms the findings of the in-depth analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 results. Employers also have a role in encouraging early school-leavers to return to education (‘The employer asked me to finish my general secondary education’), as well as the cultural local and regional environment (‘All my friends have completed their general secondary education’). Having understanding teachers and people around who want to help, and classmates who ‘would help’, are the most often reported preventive measures.
Some similarities can be observed in both the target sub-groups. These are 1) the value of education as a ‘criterion’ of judgement (standards of value against which early school-leavers are judged); 2) the existence of a transformational learning environment in the family, friends, community or at the workplace, and especially at school.
Early school-leavers – negative learning experience in regular school results in unwillingness to go to school (rejection of traditional schooling)
Unsuccessful learning as a reason for ESL is characterised by: the missed opportunity of success in self-development and the dominance of compulsory learning over voluntary learning, which is based on the individual’s desire to learn new things; lack of opportunities to learn from mistakes, which is a good way to success in learning instead of just counting mistakes in the exams for the purpose of marking; low social impact of learning outcomes; not getting a better salary, no advancement/promotion in career; and the absence of timely formative feedback on learning quality.
Also, on the one hand, failure in learning that leads to ESL is provoked by a combination of academic reasons such as a predominance of theoretical content, as well as students’ low level of literacy and numeracy, etc. On the other hand, early school-leavers reject the traditional organisation of schooling (too many lessons; necessity of going to school for face-to face lessons every day; homework overload in regular schools, where the accent is on homework not on working during the lessons), which does not allow the combination of schooling and hobbies (sports, music, free time, etc.). In particular, a child-centred learning environment does not facilitate adult learning emotionally and socially. Adults need to communicate with the teacher as an equal ‘learning partner’ (learning in dialogue with the teacher as an equal experienced colleague), whereas an attitude of regular school teachers that is unequal towards all learners is evident. Another factor is that regular school tends to be exclusive (not inclusive), through its emphasis on achievement, and therefore it gives priority to more successful students rather than promoting the learning success of all. This is partly because of the school rating system advocated by the state.
Transforming challenges into opportunities to prevent ESL
A complex set of economical, logistical, and educational preventive measures has to be implemented as a holistic system where education as a value is central in creating a family, school and workplace community learning culture. Support cultures of transformational learning opportunities have to be seen as key, as a kind of learning where learning outcomes are reached. Learning outcomes acquisition is closely related to career planning, workplace learning in dialogue with experienced colleagues and positive learning experience in different combinations. However, early school-leavers need support, and in this sense the positive learning experience of changing the organisation of schooling has an important role. Restructuring the quality indicators in schools’ rating from summative competitions to formative evaluation and the professionalisation of adult teachers are also necessary.
 Irina Maslo and Manuel J. Fernández González (2015) Supporting the Engagement and Reintegration of 18-24 Year Old Early School-Leavers in Lifelong Learning: Evidences for targeted compensatory and preventive strategy in education. Available at: asemlllhub.org/fileadmin/www.asem.au.dk/publications/ASEM_FINAL_2015.pdf
Irina Maslo is Habilitated Doctor of Pedagogy (Dr.habil.paed.), a Professor of the Faculty of Education, Psychology and Art of the University of Latvia. Former Director of the Scientific Institute of Pedagogy of the Faculty of Education, Psychology and Art of the University of Latvia (2008 -2015), and since 2015 the Head of the Scientific Council of the same Institute. She is an expert of the Latvian Council of Science. She leads the Doctoral school Human Capacity and Life Wide Learning in Inclusive Contexts of Diversity and Master’s degree programme of Educational Treatment of Diversity. The directions of her scientific research are: LLL strategies for improving of motivation of 18- 24 aged early school leavers and 25-36 aged gifted adults to participate in LLL in diverse inclusive contexts in Asia and Europe wide.