The high school dropout problem is a crisis because it impacts not only individuals and their education, but because of the economic and social costs local communities have to deal with. Communities suffer from a lack of productive workers and higher costs associated with incarceration, health care, and other social services. As the world moves towards an increasingly global economy, individuals and nations are discovering that higher levels of education are critical to the ability to compete and thrive; in fact, about 90 percent of the fastest growing jobs will require some postsecondary education. Data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) shows that in 2012, an estimated 7.2 million children in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were out of school. In the UAE, Emiratisation efforts are being hampered because too few men finish secondary school or go on to university.The existing high school dropout problems are of critical important due to the economic and social consequences on communities and families. Educators and policy makers are constantly looking for support programs to re-enrol existing high school dropouts and enable them to improve their academic achievement skills, obtain their high school diplomas or equivalent which bolster their employability through work experience and training.
Most of the young dropouts experience a wide range of job market, earnings, social and income problems that impair their ability to transition to productive career and stable family life. Students worldwide ascribe their decision to drop out to many diverse reasons. At the same, there are common themes such as the lack of caring from adults and officials around them. Solutions to the matter cannot be a one size fits all approach, it should be multidimensional for it prevent individuals from dropping out of school. The values of education are countless but let us not ignore the fact that education is a fundamental human right as it promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits. Education for youngsters is a powerful tool by which we can prevent economically and socially marginalized adulthood and enables them to lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully as productive citizens.
Dropping out of high school is defined as leaving high school without completion to a formal qualification awarded. Up to 15 per cent of Emirati boys drop out of secondary school and almost a quarter of Emirati men aged between 20 and 24 are school dropouts. Similar data collected on same age group showed that 34 percent of Qataris and 41 percent of young Jordanian adults never completed a secondary education which indeed forms a challenge for Arab countries attempting to develop knowledge economies amid skill shortage among a growing youth population. Implementing successful solutions to counteract the dropout problem requires thorough study and extensive data analysis to examine the causes, create preventive measures and offer tailored interventions suitable to the UAE and MENA. It will provide an understanding how the determinants of dropout vary across socioeconomic conditions and geographical and historical frameworks.
For the UAE, the problem is, unfortunately, clear to see. Dr Zureik concluded in a study that close to 35 per cent of males dropped out between grades 10 and 12 compared to 25 per cent of females. A recent study by Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasmi Foundation indicates that at least 20% of males in the UAE dropout before graduating secondary school. More than 1,600 pupils dropped out of public schools across the country during 2013-2014, according to the Ministry of Education. The annual report by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, which supervises the United Arab Emirates’ education system together with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, found that only 32 percent of male student complete high school on time which indicates that many students are held behind due to poor attendance and earning fewer school credits, key predictors of dropping out. Dropouts occur most often in public schools in grade 10, where 11 percent of boys never make it to grade 11 while some will manage to graduate after they turn 18. High school dropout is a concern not only in the UAE but all over the world. Data reflects alarming phenomena when it comes to certain races, socioeconomic and family standards. Approximately one third of high school students in the United States fail to earn traditional high school diploma especially among black and Hispanic students.
Why some students drop out?
In a study sponsored by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “The silent Epidemic, perspectives of high school dropouts”, the research is aimed at educating the public about how bad the underlying consequences of dropping out of school by investigating the schools in which individuals are failing to learn, the job markets they cannot enter, and the diminished communities in which they live. Students in most cases cited boredom and disengagement as the main reasons for dropping out. Students see no relationship between what they are expected to learn and their future goals. Particularly in large high schools, students mentioned the lack of adult interest or care about them and their education. Financial factors like needing to support a young family (or parents and siblings), or other social hardship like divorce or losing a parent can lead students to put work and other priorities ahead of finishing school. Hence, an adequate understanding of why and when students drop out requires a consideration of all aspects of the circumstances that leads to quitting school.
Research also tells us that even before students themselves may realize they are on the path to dropping out, clear signals are given regarding their situation. These signals include aspects such as low reading proficiency in the early grades, poor grades in core academic courses, poor attendance and misbehaviour. Most literature reviews on dropout further suggest that boredom, truancy or missing too many days, peer pressure, lack of parent’s involvement, and poor academic performance are indicators warning of the potential for dropping out. L Research tells us that parents and educators and school counsellors should look for early signals, such as low reading proficiency in the early grades, poor grades in core academic courses, poor attendance and misbehaviour, these are all warning signs that a student is on the path to dropping out. Studies have shown that most students expressed regret for having dropped out of school, with many seeing graduating from high school as important to success in life and significant numbers suggesting that if they could relive the experience, they would have stayed in school.
Why should we care?
The value of primary or secondary age education cannot be underestimated. The individual growth and development that comes with effective education will widely recognised. Global competitiveness requires that all students develop competencies for life and work, therefore, providing a successful educational system that is impartial, accessible, and flexible based on cooperation, not competition is important to any country’s stability, social and economic progress.The most significant disadvantage to a dropout is low potential income earning, High school dropouts earn $9,200 less per year on average than those who graduate. Over the course of their lifetimes, they will earn an average of $375,000 less than high school graduates, and roughly $1 million less than college graduates. Most employers require a high school diploma which diminishes these young people employability chances and their access to retirement benefits or health plans that support them and their families. A person without a diploma will have difficulty accessing higher education, trade schools or even gaining access to training and workshops to advance their skills diminishing their chances to improve their income. On the national front the country would benefit from an additional revenue when more students are earning high school diplomas and perusing better and stable careers. The labour market and jobs will be filled with qualified personnel. Adult skills such as literacy and general life skills rise with educational attainment and only 30 percent of early school leavers were found to possess the skill level considered a suitable minimum for coping with the demands of everyday life and work.
In the UAE, high dropout rate among male students at public schools is critical and it hampers the Emiratisation efforts because too few men finish secondary school or go on to university. Emiratisation, is a nationwide programme aimed at effectively assimilating the UAE national workforce in the labour market. The flaws in the schools system contribute to the high drop-out rate and Emirati boys dropping out of high school who often have a poor level of English are not interested in manual jobs and on the other hand, with a progressing economy, local organisations in the UAE are demanding a bachelor’s as a minimum degree for new hires which poses significant challenges to the intended objectives of the Emiratisation program.
What can be done?
Policy makers and education specialists should work together to implement a successful education system suitable for a new generation of students in the competitive job market that meets the challenges of modern globalized world. The education system should accept the challenges of the current job market through offering the necessary skills and tools to capture the interest of the new generation of students. It has been expressed that:
“Global competitiveness requires that all people develop competencies for life and work, not just some people. This means that a successful education system should help young people to discover their talents and build their lives based on them. Reading, mathematical, and scientific literacy will remain important, but their role as ‘core subjects’ in competitive education systems will be challenged by creativity, networking skills, and imagination.”
As educators and policy makers we should find ways to ensure the education systems meet the needs of all youth, including those at-risk of dropping out. Current educational systems lack the understanding that the competitive world requires more cooperation in classrooms and between schools. The race to the top among different schools and educational entities jeopardizes school, teacher, and student efforts to cooperate as they reward winners in the race and punish losers in public tests. High stakes testing administered in many countries has turned schools from learning centers to testing centers. Student performance on these tests was the sole factor in promoting them to the next grade. Teachers focus is shifted to drilling and practicing testing while the needs of at risk students are not a priority in the classrooms who are competing to the top. Standardized tests are biased, they treat all students the same regardless of ethnic backgrounds and all schools equal regardless of quality of teachers or availability of educational resources, poor students attending poor schools perform poorly compared to wealthy students attending wealthy school districts. In addition to that not all students have good test taking skills in a traditional setting.
To keep students from dropping out, a proactive method needed to identify those students at risk. Warning signals of student disengagement, failing grades, poor attendance, and other warning signs most closely linked with dropping out. Early identification and systemically monitoring those who are most likely to drop out is a key to the solution. Schools should implement early warning data systems that promptly notify appropriate school staff who should be trained in spotting these red flags. Student support advocates should intervene quickly to provide appropriate interventions and become a voice for them, who will fight to ensure they receive the support they need and halt otherwise disengagement misconduct.
Providing suitable education to all students, “equitable education system” makes sure that all students will perform well giving them early support. It will also emphasize caring and well-being in school (through healthy nutrition, medical, dental and psychological health).
Educational institutions that fail to graduate students on time and are considered low-performing should have an access to federal and community support. Off-track students and young people who have dropped out of school should get back on a pathway to graduation by offering them especially tailored programs or alternative schooling that deepens their academic and social skills altogether with emphasis on leadership practices. Incentives like career evaluations and offering college credit are powerful motivators to continue school.
Success in school should be ensured through engaging the traditional learning experience with the next-generation digital learning tools. Young people should have access to career guidance into post-secondary programs that lead to high-wage, high-demand jobs in the regional and local labor market so they can realise the paths leading to high-quality employment. A key factor in this equation is the “education system” itself. What is needed is a flexible education system that offers an adequate individual personalization where learning activities are based on student needs and legitimate interests rather than, arbitrarily, on generic curriculum. Giving the freedom for schools to craft their curricula based on their capacities and local needs will support efforts to keep students in schools. Officials should act to reduce boredom and disengagement by expanding opportunities that are helpful like project-based and hands-on learning, giving high school students an option to earn credit for learning outside the traditional school day and year including internships and apprenticeships, independent study and community service.
Finally a key to intervention and prevention is a well trained and equipped staff that is capable of mentoring and observing those at risk students, and utilises available resources, teachers could represent the only caring adult in some of these students life. Our ultimate believe that all students have the right to be treated equally in a school system regardless of their academic ability and teacher’s duty stems from their commitment to deliver education that connect between these students and their career aspirations.
 A. M Fall and G. Roberts, “High School Dropouts: Interactions between Social Context, Self-perceptions, School Engagement, and Student Dropout” 35 Journal of Adolescence (2012) 787–798.
 R. W. Rumberger, “High School Dropouts: A Review of Issues and Evidence” 57 Review of Educational Research (1987) 101-121.
 L. Darling-Hammond, The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for creating Schools that Work. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997).