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United Way Blog

Combatting School Dropout in Europe


The determinants and repercussions underlying school dropout are complex and often difficult to diagnose since it is a many-faced phenomenon. Along with problems of learning difficulties and the challenges associated with it, as well as a lack of positive role models, school dropout is also linked to various external factors such as the student’s socioeconomic conditions, particularly at home. The adverse consequences of dropping out for students are many: On the one hand, early leavers are confronted with the problem of finding a stable, appropriate, and fairly compensating employment; and, on the other hand, they face social exclusion, marginalization, and inequalities that hinder the fulfillment of their psychosocial needs that are typically associated with purposeful employment.

Although Europe is currently experiencing steady growth trends in education, school dropout rates remain statistically significant. The European Union, on average, has a dropout rate of 10.2%, with Spain and Romania leading the continent with the highest rates at 16% and 16.4% respectively (see chart below). Males are more likely to dropout than females (11.9% compared to 8.4%). In Spain, this difference is even more striking as 20.3% of males drop out compared to 11.6% of females. Moreover, across Europe, ethnic minorities and immigrants are more likely to dropout.

United Way Europe and the Middle East has been working diligently, making concerted efforts to combat dropout rates in Europe in order to ensure that students remain in school and improve their chances in the labor market post-graduation.

In Spain, for example, United Way Spain has teamed up with the Everis foundation to launch the Tech4Change program to help the youth find technological solutions to overcome their learning difficulties and to improve their lives at home. With 136 students, 94 volunteers and more than 1,000 volunteer hours, the project seeks to reduce school dropout rates and empower students to realize their potential by equipping them with lifelong learning skills. Central to this project is the method of ‘learning by doing,’ where students cognitively, affectively, and behaviorally process and construct knowledge and skills through active interaction and engagement in various practical activities. In the process, students are encouraged to collaborate and experiment, and are given the tools necessary to improve their STEM skills.

Similarly, in Romania, two unique educational programs were implemented that aim to improve student retention and success in school: The Learn to Succeed and Nesting a Brighter Future for Children. The programs adopt an integrated model, centered on students’ needs, and bring together parents, teachers, community members, and volunteers to work together to solve the problem of school dropout.

These programs could not have come at a more crucial time as, over the past year, with the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, student dropout rates have witnessed an exponential increase in the country. Socioeconomically disadvantaged families who are financially burdened and ill-prepared to meet the demands of their children’s in-home learning find it difficult to cope with the new reality. Recognizing the significance of the problem, United Way Romania, through its programs, helped vulnerable children experiencing deficits in their education as a result of COVID-related school closures and social isolation to persevere through difficult times. In 2020, working with 42 schools and NGO partners, it has supported 6,122 students to pursue a quality education by providing them with material support such as daily meals, clothes, hygiene products, medicine, and educational kits that include books, creative materials and educational games. Among other things, families were also given food/social vouchers, COVID-safe educational materials, medical and disinfection supplies, and protective masks. In addition, the program has implemented an after-school program for children who require extra help, as well as mentoring and tutoring sessions.

But students were not the only ones on the receiving end of assistance as 172 teachers and educators were also given support to improve their working methods, particularly with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Equally important, the programs also recognized the critical role that parents play in the child’s educational success. Through the Parents’ Academy, 691 parents participated in monthly meetings facilitated by psychologists or social workers where they improve their parenting skills and their relationship with their children. These meetings aim to develop the relationship between children, parents, and educators.

In Hungary, the dropout rate is at 12.5%. According to surveys conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA], 1 in 5 children in the country is functionally illiterate. In other words, children either do not comprehend the texts they are consuming or have difficulties reading them. These challenges, if left unattended, could escalate and have a negative lasting effect on their lives, becoming an obstacle to their self-development. Children who fail to overcome their reading difficulties will in all likelihood halt their elementary or high school education before final exams. Consequently, this will harm their communication abilities, self-esteem, and more importantly, their employment prospects.

Recognizing the critical importance of communication, United Way Hungary launched the Page Turner program in 2014, a literacy initiative aimed at helping children overcome their reading challenges to remain in school. The initiative provides children with books of their interest that would encourage their reading habits and comprehension. United Way Hungary’s volunteers collected gently used books and delivered them to schools and civil organizations. Since 2014, more than 10,000 books have been donated to almost 50 schools.

In addition, in 2018, the program developed an innovative, child-centered educational methodology that enables teachers to recognize reading difficulties in time and intervene accordingly. This unique approach that is centered around fun games and movement activities created a new learning environment for children and positively influenced their attitudes and motivations for learning. Newcomer teachers are offered 2-3 training sessions per year, while 1-2 training sessions are offered to teachers already in the program to further improve their teaching knowledge and teaching methodology. The program is currently available in 30 schools, with more than 100 volunteer teachers and educators working with more than 1500 students.

United Kingdom
The UK has an average dropout rate of 6.4%. According to one study, students from ethnic minority groups and disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK are more likely to drop out than other students. To combat the school dropout phenomenon in the United Kingdom, United Way UK established the Reading Oasis program to address childhood literacy challenges since children with poor literacy levels are more likely to drop out of school. Almost 400,000 children in Britain don’t own a book of their own and 1 in 8 primary schools don’t have a library of their own.

To this end, the program, which was designed in collaboration with teachers, educational experts and children, targets children from disadvantaged backgrounds and aims to ensure that children remain in school and are given an opportunity to develop a passion for reading by providing them with new school libraries and reading resources. Every Reading Oasis includes the following:

  • A safe, inviting space within schools where children can enjoy reading.
  • Creatively designed and comfortable furniture to encourage children to pick up a book, sit down, and read.
  • Hundreds of new books and a book for every child to take home and keep.
  • Resources for parents and teachers with tips on reading with their children.

The program has provided 48,067 books to 12,065 children across 36 schools.

In France, the Youth Challenge program, coordinated by Alliance Pour L’Education ­– United Way assists 11-18 year old youth (mainly 6th to 9th graders in middle school, but also in four high schools) from priority areas[1] by providing them with the tools they need to develop self-confidence, to project themselves, and to go out of their comfort zone in order to make informed choices for their future. 

In line with the collective impact method, Alliance pour l’éducation – United Way mobilizes the community of stakeholders (companies and their employees, partner NGOs in the field of education and youth empowerment, local authorities, philanthropists, volunteers, middle schools and high schools) to promote equality of opportunity for young people from priority education. Each stakeholder UW France engages with plays a crucial part in the solution to support the youth; and all these efforts are integrated and channeled through the Youth Challenge.

The program is intended to inspire young people to think about their goals and their aspirations for a successful and fulfilling career outcome. Through this program, the youth are exposed to various workshops and professional immersions designed to introduce them to the professional environment and to help them know themselves better. The Youth Challenge objectives are set for each grade and are adapted to the maturity of the youth involved, and all revolve around two main focal points:

  • Introducing the youth to the life skills in relation to the professional workplace, with a specific focus on wellbeing, self-consciousness and self-confidence. The Youth Challenge program organizes workshops with NGO partners on personal development, creativity, interpersonal and collaboration skills, public speaking, among other topics.
  • Developing a better understanding of the economic and professional world, providing professional knowledge and experience to the youth with respect to professional skills, interpersonal skills, and exposure to different career paths. The Youth Challenge program organizes meetings and internships with companies so that the youths have the opportunity to interact with employees during company site visits, professional careers forums, Q&A sessions, and to cultivate their interest in the professional and civic work. As part of the John Deere Foundation program, Alliance pour l’éducation – United Way works with John Deere employee volunteers to design workshops, programs, and internships for participating students to receive valuable mentoring, build resume skills, and cultivate professional skills through internships.

The programme is committed to ensuring every young person is exposed to these integrated set of experiences that follow the youth during their educational cycle. “The program allows students who have, for different reasons, difficulties at school, to continue to acquire skills and to be recognized for who they are with their qualities that are not always immediately recognized by the school,” says Mrs. Morales, a middle school principal.

The skills taught in the Youth Challenge program are designed to re-engage students in school, to improve outcomes, prevent dropouts, and to inspire students to find careers they are passionate about. 9,930 youths benefited from the program this school year with 566 corporate volunteers participating across 60 organizations.

[1] Economically distressed districts in France where underemployment, unemployment and lack of degree rates are high.