Barbados and member countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are being advised to urgently put measures in place to reduce the number of students repeating forms in primary and secondary schools, warning that failure to do so could lead to an increase in school dropouts.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative to Barbados and the OECS, Khin-Sandi Lwin raised this concern during a Caribbean Development Bank (CDB)/ United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) regional technical workshop on the implications of the sustainable development goals for education at the Accra Beach Hotel on Tuesday.
She said that while the Caribbean has made great strides in making primary and secondary education accessible to all, children are still being left behind.
Lwin explained that even though the current dropout levels were still small, the growing number of students who were repeating classes increases the risk of a high percentage of children passing the allowable school age before they can complete their secondary education.
“The recently completed study on out-of-school children that we partnered with UWI [the University of the West Indies] to undertake showed a small but significant number of children and adolescents out of school,” she said. “More critically, the red flag of alert was in the repetition rates. Students start to repeat at the primary school and by third form, a third . . . of the students are over aged and that puts them at risk for not completing school.”
Lwin also pointed out that among those children, boys were significantly more at risk than girls.
“The study also confirms what has been staring at us for a number of years – male students experience a significantly higher rate of breakdown than girls in the transition from lower to upper secondary school level. Of the average 24 per cent of students facing obstacles in completing secondary school education, 85 per cent are boys and 15 per cent are girls who are going to be facing these obstacles,” she added.
The UNICEF representative also revealed that children from poor families were factored into the at-risk group for high school dropouts as their access to early childhood education was still limited.
“Early childhood care and pre-primary school access among poor families is still a serious concern. Without that good start in life, the chance of repetition and school dropout is very likely,” Lwin contended.