Reducing Secondary School Dropouts in Latin America and the Caribbean: Policy Lessons and Recommendations

The Challenge

The next decade presents a significant opportunity for growth and development in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), but this depends on youth acquiring the skills necessary to contribute productively to the economy and their communities. In the LAC region, 95 percent of primary-school age children and 73 percent of secondary-school age youth are in school, however they complete less schooling than their OECD country counterparts. While access to education has increased throughout the region, less than 50 percent complete an upper secondary education. Of students that fall in the poorest income quintile in rural areas, only 30 percent complete secondary education.

Secondary school is a crucial pathway between education and the labor market. Dropout at this level has profound implications for both individual future earnings and macro-economic growth for individual countries and the LAC region. As youth drop out of the education system without developing strong cognitive and socioemotional skills, they are ill equipped to find highly skilled or highly paid professions.

The Opportunity

The economic and societal development of the LAC region will be shaped by whether policymakers and practitioners can understand the drivers of secondary school dropout and develop effective and innovative policies to keep youth in school.

Existing research suggests that dropout is driven by factors outside education systems, such as pregnancy, low family support, or the pull of employment, in addition to factors within education systems, such as low school relevance, weak educational quality, or a lack of student support.  Interventions that target both kinds of factors are necessary components of effective, holistic strategies to countering dropout.

Although there has been significant research into understanding the socio-economic constraints to completing a full cycle of education and the role of mechanisms such as conditional cash transfers, more work is needed to understand what strategies within the education system effectively reduce dropout. Through a combination of desk research and in-depth stakeholder interviews with educators, policymakers, and implementers, we propose to identify and better understand the actions that schools and school systems can take to help students reach graduation.

Our Work

Between January and September 2017, Results for Development (R4D) is working with CAF to identify the critical factors that influence secondary school dropout as well as explore and analyze various initiatives that have been used to counter these barriers.

The research will be conducted in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Literature review to identify key factors that contribute to dropouts at the secondary level in LAC
  • Phase 2: Mapping of policies and programs endogenous to secondary school systems that work to reduce dropouts
  • Phase 3: Key informant interviews around a subset of policies and programs to determine challenges to designing and implementing policies that tackle the issue of dropouts and draw out lessons and insights.

Case studies will synthesize information gathered from both literature and interviews to develop recommendations on how LAC policymakers can draw on effective practices and lessons in reducing dropouts.

To learn more, please contact Shubha Jayaram: sjayaram@r4d.org.

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