Decline in early school leavers but problems remain
Despite a large decrease in the number of school dropouts in recent years reported by the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC), social workers insist the problem remains severe and has caused other headaches such as crime and prostitution among juveniles.
On Children’s Day yesterday, prominent children’s-rights defenders highlighted the problem of students dropping out during the compulsory education levels between Prathom 1 (Grade 1) and Mathayom 6 (Grade 12). They said it was still a serious issue, as these dropouts were very likely to go down the criminal path because, without a proper education, they lacked the opportunity to get a good job.
OBEC said that the number of dropouts last year decreased to only 1,945 students from 2,411 in 2016. However, another study by the Independent Committee for Education Reform found that up to 240,000 children aged 15 to 17 did not continue past Mathayom 3 (Grade 9), while another estimation disclosed that around 100,000 students had to leave education system annually.
Baan Kanjanapisek Juvenile Vocational Training Centre director Ticha na Nakorn, who has been working with convicted youths for several years, said that most juveniles she worked with had dropped out of school before becoming criminals.
“I’ve noticed a trend that most young criminals are dropout students. Moreover, most of them drop out during high school and especially at Mathayom 2 (Grade 8),” Ticha said.
“This is the origin of the crime problem. When these children do not have an opportunity to study, they have very few choices of career. This makes them very prone to becoming criminals, as it is the easiest way to make a large amount of money.”
She said that the turning point for many children was at Mathayom 2, when they had already studied at high school for one year and the “honeymoon period” ended.
Many of them struggled to grow up as teenagers. As this was a time for self-actualisation, unless they received proper care from family and teachers, there was a very high chance that they would be forced out of school due to their bad behaviour.
“I urge the Education Ministry to really focus on this problem and come up with concrete measures to ensure that every student completes compulsory education,” Ticha said. “As I always say: if the school gate shuts for children, the prison gate will open for them.”
According to the Juvenile Observation and Protection Department, 33,121 children aged between 10 and 18 were convicted of crimes related to drugs, stealing or committing violence. Of those, 68 per cent were school dropouts.
Path2Health Foundation coordinator Pornnuch Sattapornsawat said that pregnancy while studying was another major reason that forced students out of school, and made the lives of both the young mother and her baby vulnerable.
“We do not have the exact number of pregnant students who have had to leave school, but from my experience of campaigning about child pregnancy and sex education in schools, the majority of pregnant student have had to end their education for various reasons,” Pornnuch said.
Those reasons included the burden of raising a baby, poverty, bullying and enforced dismissal by the school.
“Some school principals still cherish the reputation of the school over the duty of taking care and providing education for a pregnant student,” she said. “They regard the pregnancy of their student as bringing shame and they expel her, despite that being against the law,” she added.
“This stigmatisation deprives the student of the skills they can acquire from education, which in turn takes away employment opportunities. So, both the young mother and her baby will end up in the loop of poverty, low life quality and repeating pregnancies at a very young age.”
According to the National Legislative Assembly’s special committee on youth, women, the elderly, physical challenged and disadvantaged persons, around 150,000 teenagers below 19 years get pregnant annually.
OBEC Policy and Planning Bureau director Thanu Wongjinda said the commission had many measures to reduce the number of dropouts and ensure that all children receive compulsory education. These included drafting the new law to ensure the right to education for all children regardless of behaviour or pregnancy, and providing psychologists to guide and advise students who need help.