When the education authorities in Zambia announced that out of a total of 300,000 children who enroll into Grade 1 only 30,000 reach and complete grade 12, I was startled. This is a startling fact going by those statistics. A quick explanation one would give for such a huge school drop-out rate would be the obvious examinations that exclude all those who do not pass them. Then there is the obvious natural factor of death which could be quite common in
the lower age groups in the lower primary section. In Zambia national examinations that determine a pupil's progression into a higher level in the school structure are twice in the 12 year education system running from Grade 1-12. The first examination is written at the end of Grade 7 when pupils are mainly in the 12-13 year age group. Those that pass the examination proceed to Grade 8 and a year later in Grade 9 they sit for another elimination examination that determines who proceeds to Grade 10 and finally reach Grade 12 without writing any examination.
The examinations themselves become a huge discriminator of who remains and continues with school. Other than excelling in the exam and showing competences in the various subjects in which the pupils are assessed, the availability of classroom space in the next stage after the exam is a huge factor in determining how many pupils progress to the next level.
Apart from examinations, numerous socioeconomic factors play a major role in the high rate of school drop-outs. Unfortunately girls still continue to be the ones that drop out of school in large numbers. Factors responsible for this range from early pregnancies, early marriages, families still preferring educating boys to girls, stigmatisation of the girl child, lack of proper sanitary facilities for the girl child and in most cases the girl child is forced to leave school to look after siblings or a terminally ill parent or guardian.
There is a whole lot of young lives who are pushed-out of school before they have developed their potential to be effective and competent members of society armed with the knowledge and skills that would make them active participants in the economy, governance and democracy of the nation. In the world we want and post 2015, concrete measures need to be implemented to curb this wastage of potential in these young lives.