Record number of students dropping out of school early a cost of living and Covid stress issue, educator says

Taranaki has one of the highest numbers of students dropping out of high school before getting NCEA.

MARTIN DE RUYTER/Stuff

Taranaki has one of the highest numbers of students dropping out of high school before getting NCEA.

Record numbers of students are dropping-out of school before they turn 17 and a leading educator says most are doing so to help their families through the cost of living crisis.

Spotswood College principal and teaching council member Nicola Ngarewa said the numbers in Taranaki, which has one of the highest drop-out rates in the country, were “equivalent to a large sized secondary school”.

And she believed the students were leaving to pick up jobs and help support families.

“The increase in the cost of living and petrol costs all play a part in the immediate responses that our young people have,” Ngarewa said.

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She also said the stresses of impacted schooling through the Covid-19 pandemic of the past two years was slowing them down.

“A lot of the time they feel defeated like they are too far behind, or it’s too hard to catch up as well as high levels of anxiety.”

Ngarewa said there were “hundreds, if not a thousand” students in Taranaki, packing their bags before they turned 17.

“Some people would argue statistically that’s not huge, but we are talking about hundreds of young people in our region.

“That’s the equivalent of a significant sized secondary school having young people leave without that level of formal qualification they need as a direct pathway into further employment for them.”

Before Covid, Ngarewa said 18 to 20 percent of leavers in Taranaki were 17 or under, but last year that number was at 28% – equivalent to one in five students leaving school early.

Nicola Ngarewa, chair of Te Kura, says schools around the region need to take a look at the support that's offered to vulnerable communities.

SIMON O’CONNOR/Stuff

Nicola Ngarewa, chair of Te Kura, says schools around the region need to take a look at the support that’s offered to vulnerable communities.

It was the lowest retention rate in 10 years and schools needed to do something about it, she said.

Waikato, Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast also had the highest number of student leavers.

Ngarewa said in order to prevent these issues, schools in Taranaki needed to be looking at the support that was offered to students from vulnerable communities and were more likely to leave school.

“Teachers and educators have been working under really tough circumstances and I have huge respect for what they do, but my question is, how relevant are we as an education system for our young people?

“We need an action plan now otherwise there are some big risks for us to be a healthy region.”

Warwick Foy, Taranaki representative for the New Zealand careers teachers association, said students were leaving school early for justified reasons.

Warwick Foy says students may also be leaving schools due to mental health issues caused by the pandemic.

SIMON O’CONNOR/STUFF

Warwick Foy says students may also be leaving schools due to mental health issues caused by the pandemic.

“They are leaving for financial reasons and widespread mental health issues caused by three years of the pandemic.”

His main concern was the lack of routine students now had because of disrupted learning.

“House singing, house drama, all the fun aspects and traditions, they are all gone.

“School’s not just textbooks and whiteboards, it’s a routine, it’s a pattern, a cycle and that’s all been disrupted, so there’s not as much to hold them here”

Although Foy was quick to understand why these students were leaving school early, he wanted to ensure they weren’t leaving to do nothing.

“NCEA was designed for people to take what they need and leave when it’s the right time for them. It’s not necessary that everyone goes to level three and leaves.

“If you leave school to sit on the couch then they’re a ‘drop-out’ but if they’re entering employment or training then they’re taking the next steps into employment, so they are ‘stepping-out’.

However, he did encourage students to look at getting at least their level two qualifications before leaving.

“The benchmark qualification is level two, it’s a doorway to apprenticeships and pre-trade.

“I do understand, sometimes it’s financial imperative and people have been through hell, so they don’t have any choice.”

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