Income link to UAE school dropouts, study suggests

Children from low-income families in the Northern Emirates are three times more likely than pupils in the capital to drop out of school, a study suggests.

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ABU DHABI // Children from low-income families in the Northern Emirates are three times more likely than pupils in the capital to drop out of school, a study suggests.

Every 1 per cent reduction in family income is associated with a 21 per cent increase in the probability of quitting education early, researchers found.

Other main contributory factors, especially for boys, were poorly educated mothers, fathers with no job and being brought up in a single-parent family.

"Parents' level of education - especially the mother's - was an important factor that determined whether the children continued with education," said Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research and co-author of the study.

The study's findings reinforce recent concerns expressed by senior government ministers over education, employment and Emiratisation. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, said last week the education system must better meet the challenge of preparing young Emiratis for the world of work.

And Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, called on Monday for a national debate on measures to reduce unemployment, particularly among the young.

For the latest report, researchers studied 496 Emirati pupils over two years: 149 left public education without completing high school, and the other 347 went on to university.

About 56 per cent of dropouts said they left to support their families and 11.3 per cent said they could not afford to continue at school.

The mothers of those who dropped out had an average of just over five years' education, and their fathers only six. Mothers of students who continued had spent an average of 11 years studying.

As a result, only 18 per cent of the students said their parents monitored their school work.

Students whose fathers were not working were also at a greater risk of dropping out, Dr Ridge said. Those whose fathers were retired, unemployed or dead were 19 per cent more likely to leave school.

One Emirati student who dropped out in Grade 10 said his parents were illiterate and never asked about school. "Their lack of interest encouraged us to skip class and misbehave at school because no one paid attention," he said.

The report said such experiences should have "wide policy ramifications for the UAE, as retirement ages are based on years of service rather than the age of the person".

"Fathers need to be role models and show them the value of hard work," said Dr Ridge. "There seems to be a lot of hidden unemployment."

Being brought by a single parent, or dysfunctional family situations such as conflicts at home, contributed to boys dropping out of school. "Low socioeconomic indicators are also associated with single parent families," the report said.

Dr Rima Sabban, a sociologist at Zayed University in Dubai, said disturbance in the family can affect children's self-esteem if they develop a feeling of not being cared for, and their education suffers. "If the child feels neglected and the family atmosphere is unsettled they lose interest," Dr Sabban said.

"What the children lack is someone observing them to spot signs of trouble. Schools can play a role through a strong social worker and counselling connection with the family."

Dr Ridge said her research showed a need to make the school environment warm and welcoming. Improving the quality of teachers in boys' schools to prevent them from leaving for lucrative government jobs was also important, she said.

More than 72 per cent of students who dropped out said they did not get along with their teachers and 73 per cent felt the school was unsafe.

"There needs to be a system of early identification because dropouts do not happen suddenly," she said.

"Do they regularly skip school, are their grades dipping? These are all red flags for dropouts. If that is the case, then someone needs to go to, for example, Abdulla's house and see what is happening. Take a personal interest."