Lost Future? Non-enrollment and non-attendance of school: a study on the phenomena

08.11.2013 12:30

This report was commissioned by UNICEF Bulgaria. The views and opinions expressed in the present study report are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of UNICEF. The report should be quoted whenever the material or a part thereof is published.


The purpose of this analysis is to support the formulation and the efficient implementation of policies designed to minimize non-enrollment or early dropout from school – before finishing primary school.

In the past two decades hundreds of thousands of children, young people and adults in this country failed to benefit from the best that the education system has to offer and what is worse, many of them never attended school or else dropped out after a short period of school attendance. In theyears of an economic crisis there are indications of a growing percentage of non-enrollment and of dropout before completion of primary school level among the youngest generations in the school-attending age.

Illiteracy and the non-acquisition of sufficiently long training for children in the school-attending age who do not attend school result in gaps in knowledge, skills and competences that are required for integration into the mainstream of society and for a meaningful career of both    individuals and their communities and families. Hence their insignificant contribution to the country’s socio-economic development. Nine out of ten persons are illiterate and that is only within the group of people who never went to school. Two out of five are illiterate in the 15-19 age bracket of people who could not finish primary school. Illiteracy and under-education or the lack of education altogether are the main reason for unemployment, low income and poverty – a breakdown of the poverty-stricken in 2011 shows that the group of people who never went beyond the primary school level forms a percentage (44.3%) which is three times the percentage (13.1%) which is formed by poor who have secondary education.

In total the number of children who never enrolled or dropped out quite early in the past five years is 7,000 children per annum on average. This is the second largest group of school dropouts (after the biggest one – the dropouts in the lower secondary education stage).

Compared to the EU countries Bulgaria reports the earliest average age of dropouts with a low level of education (lower secondary school at the most): it is as low as 14.3 years, i.e. almost 2 years before reaching the end of compulsory school age.

Non-enrollment and dropout in an earlier school-attending age essentially “enable” Bulgaria to place on top within the EU and to rank among the member countries that make up the first quarter with the highest index of dropouts in 2012 before reaching the age beyond which school attendance is no longer compulsory.

In the past 5 years some 6000 children per annum on average who enrolled could not finish even the initial phase of lower secondary education. Some 40% of them went abroad and there is no information to let us know whether they continued to go to school outside Bulgaria.

Prior to 2011 on the whole both the policies designed to make sure that education is affordable and most of the studies and analyses in that area were focused on dropout schoolchildren. It was the 2011 Population and Housing Census that first used questionnaires to supply official statistics about individuals who never attended school. It turned out a number of over 80,000 countrywide and of over 10,000 children in school-attending age had never gone to school.

A significant number of children in school-attending age do not go to school for reasons of bad health – every sixth child in the 10-19 age bracket who did not enroll was a child with a definite grade of disability.

“Hidden actual dropout” owing to fictitious school attendance, toleration and non-registration of vast absenteeism is a problem that largely affects school education. The expert assessments of schoolmasters, teaching staff and municipal education experts indicate that the number of children who are affected by these phenomena is severalfold the number of children who form the annual non-enrollment and dropout statistics.

The poverty suffered by families, the villages that are far away from the educational institutions, the bad housing conditions, the low level of education of the parents, the health problems, the bad command of the official language and prejudice and discriminating inclinations are the general factors that affect children in older age groups but have an essential impact on the dropout from primary school and non-enrollment.

The specific key factors for very early dropout from the education system (before finishing primary school) or non-enrollment are: non-attendance of or inferior training in kindergartens and preparatory groups in kindergartens and school of children from vulnerable groups; movement to the next grade for which the minimal standards have not been covered  and in default of a sufficient set of measures to fill the gaps in subsequent school years,  internal and external migration of families and the bullying of children into different forms of beggary.

The limited access to preschool education in small towns and villages and for socially vulnerable groups where they cannot afford kindergarten attendance fees pushes the high percentage of children who do not receive the compulsory preschool training – one out of 5 children at the age of 5 and 11.5% of the 6-year old children in Bulgaria do not attend kindergarten or school.

As the habits, knowledge and models of behavior that are to be acquired in the nursery, kindergarten or school are of key importance for the adaptation of children at school, the risk of early dropout or non-enrollment is high, especially concerning children from social groups who find it difficult to catch up with coevals who have received preschool training.

PIRLS results show that it is not just the attendance of kindergarten that has en essentially statistically significant impact; it is also the length and regularity of the training received that matter; short-time kindergarten attendance is not enough to form a substantial gap between such children and the children who never attended kindergarten.

Children who have never gone to school suffer, inter alia, from an underdeveloped coordination between the institutions that are to identify the children subject to compulsory preschool and school education and an inefficient system for civil registration of individuals from communities where social exclusion is extreme.

An essential obstacle that impairs the efficiency of institution-to-institution interaction is the inexistence of tools of coordination and early warning mechanisms with a focus on the prevention of dropout from school and the limited number of social workers who must interact energetically with the school staff to prevent the risks of dropout.

The majority of key measures that the institutions in charge and the stakeholders should take at national, municipal and school level should focus on the prevention of non-enrollment and early dropout from school.

The implementation of the policies intended to prevent non-enrollment and early dropout from school should be based on efficiently operating interinstitutional partnership mechanisms at local, regional and national level, clear planning of integrated measures and defined responsibilities of the institutions.

At national level: it is necessary to adopt one valid definition of earlier dropout from school, to map out priority measures for the most vulnerable groupsand to formulate and implement policies based on proofs and mandatory ex ante evaluations to determine the impact of noticeable changes in education. An increased national budget spending item for education is a condition for the implementation of measures that are to prevent early dropout from school, optimize the costs for school and kindergarten facilities and equipment and improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of the services they provide.

Intensive work is needed to transform attitudes to early childhood development and to raise public awareness of the appropriate starting age for preschool attendance and its importance for individual, social and economic development.To work out a comprehensive intersectoral strategy for early childhood development is an exponent of change and a course to steer.It is especially important to abolish financial, economic, social and geographic location barriers to preschool attendance and training that is adequate in terms of quality and length and to abolish tuition fees and payments for other costs related to compulsory preschool attendance.

The implementation of national policies at local level calls for stronger incentives and mechanisms of responsibility at local level for the enrollment and attendance and for encouragement of local interinstitutional and partner initiatives.

Systematic interinstitutional effort is needed to overcome stereotypes persisting over the gender role and to expose the risks that underage marriage and childbirth constitute to child development.

Some of the key measures to prevent non-enrollment and very early dropout from school are: preparation of curricula, guidebooks and teaching aids for “second chance” type of schools (intended to achieve reintegration into the education system) and for schools for parents; appointment of municipal education mediators and reinforcement of social workers’ commitment to the prevention of dropout from school and regulatory arrangement of their interaction with the school staff; making eligibility for social benefits conditional on school and preschool attendance; teaching Bulgarian to children whose mother tongue is other than Bulgarian; encouragement of teachers from ethnic minorities to participate, on a larger scale, in the education system.

In parallel, broad public discussions should be organized on how to minimize fictitious school attendance. Opportunities should be discussed, within the framework of the debate, on how to improve the delegated budgets system, develop and put into practice standardized procedures of roll-calling and monitoring of the online compulsory preschool and school attendance tracking.

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