Diverging Pathways: When and Why Children Discontinue Education in India

Renu Singh
Education
Working paper

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the current commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and the push to achieve universal secondary education by 2030, it is important to investigate at what grade or age level boys and girls are discontinuing education, as well as the key reasons for this. 

This working paper examines dropping out of school from a life-course perspective, utilising an ecological model to examine factors affecting school continuity by drawing upon Young Lives longitudinal data in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, India. Using mixed methods, the reasons cited by children are grouped into three broad categories: (i) pulled out (including to undertake paid jobs and family responsibilities); (ii) pushed out (institution and system-related factors such as distance to school); and (iii) opting out (disengagement with school or institution not caused by the school or institution, or outside pull factors). Listening to the voices of children, the paper analyses push, pull and opt-out factors at both the individual and community level to investigate when and why children discontinue education, and correlates of dropping out, including the role of the community. 

Pull factors account for more than 60 per cent of the reasons given by children who had dropped out of school by the time they were 19 years old, while prolonged absence from school/truancy was the second most cited reason for discontinuation of education. Significant factors such as caste, maternal education, preschool attendance, and opted-out factors emerged as explanatory variables for those discontinuing education before upper-primary education as well as before secondary. However, only caste and preschool attendance were significant factors when comparing children who dropped out before and after higher secondary. 

These findings provide a clear direction to formulate policies and interventions at specific ages. An interesting finding from the multinomial multilevel regression highlights community effects that, after controlling for individual factors, explain around 11 per cent of the variability in dropping out. The fact that distance to public high school is a significant predictor of leaving school, especially at the secondary level, with children being 2.7 times more likely to drop out in communities where schools are further than 5 km away, is a key point to be considered by policymakers.

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