School dropouts: Rebel students or a broken system?


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I think everybody, at some point in their lives, has thought about dropping out of school. I mean, there are also cases where kids and teens drop out and don’t disclose why because they’re afraid of being judged for things beyond their control.

Overzealous A+ students get confident and many of them even decide that finishing out their school years is a waste of time – because they feel equipped to take on the world, as they are. Bullying, introversion, lack of family resources and the cost of stationery and textbooks can also all play a major role in kids wanting to leave before they’ve matriculated.

Whatever the reason, there’s a fine line between finishing and embracing this reality.

The social taboo of being a school "dropout"

School dropouts are considered a social taboo in South Africa. For many, it’s a marker of failure. As much as education is considered a key to success, why is it that the “key” tends to open rigid doors that produce a youth unemployment rate, which is out of control?

Well, the answer to this may seem unclear but with a bit of investigation, you’ll realise there’s more to this phenomenon than what meets the eye.

We've watched this alarming trend develop over time

If we compare the figures from 2014 to 2019, we can see that school dropout rates are still a plague on our society for a number of reasons, aside from, but including, the vast difference for students with the means and access to education and those without.


According to the Stats, there were around 14 million learners at educational institutions of which 783,545 students had enrolled at public and private Universities (SA General Household Survey of Year 2014).

  • 23.5% of learners said ‘money’ was the main reason why they couldn’t further their education
  • 11.6% of learners dropped out because of family commitments
  • 10.4% of learners stated they left because of an illness and/or a disability
  • 9.4% of learners said that having an education is useless
  • 7.8% of learners said they were happy with the level of education that they’d finished on their own
  • 6.7% of learners said they were working at home
  • 0.5% of learners said it was too difficult to get into a school


From there, we saw a massive increase in the dropout rate, from the same survey, conducted again only a few years later. Of the 2.8 million youth aged between 18-24 years old not attending an educational institution.

  • 1.4 Million learners said ‘money’ was the reason why they couldn’t go to school
  • 20% of learners (close to a 13% increase from 2014!) said they were content with the level of education they’d reached on their own
  • 18% of learners said they couldn’t study because of poor performance
  • 12% of learners (an increase of 1% from 2014) couldn’t go to school because of family commitments

And according to the NSC Examination Technical Report, of the 624,733 of the public students that entered matric in 2018, only 512,735 wrote their final exams. So, over 5 years the dropout rate went from 3.5% to over 20% with 131,067 students basically throwing in the towel.


By 2019, More than half (or 51%) of youth aged 18–24 claimed that they did not have the financial means to pay for their tuition. Furthermore, 18% of those aged 18–24 who were not attending educational institutions indicated that their poor academic performance prevented them from participating.

This is according to the ‘Higher Education and Skills in South Africa‘ report released by Statistics South Africa.

Considering we live in a fast-paced world, with the labour market that rewards people who seem innovative and driven, the perception of what a dropout is causes major challenges. Under any circumstances, these statistics paint a scary picture of a broken education system.

"In South Africa, dropout has reached a national crisis." - NCBI

The challenges

While we can point to our current education system as the major source of the problem, the government has put some measures in place to deal with the crisis at hand. A system of trial and error has meant lowering the pass marks, making university admissions requirements more lenient and trying to support our youth through academic programmes.

But realistically, these strategies have failed to achieve what they needed to – keeping young people in school.

So, what do we do now?

How then do we tackle this national crisis which is cutting our youth off at the knees?

Well, according to Adam Toren a mentor, advisor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com we might be doing this whole thing wrong. In fact, we’re so backwards that the scary part is we’re not even realising it.

“You have access to nearly everything around the globe thanks to the beauty and speed of technology and you can learn almost anything online. With all this information many are wondering if college is still the speedway of success, stay in school or drop out? Some Entrepreneurs are turning to the latter.” Adam Toren added.

And Adam might just have a point.

Changing lives with entrepreneurship

We’re progressing into a new world of education that revolves around entrepreneurship, skill sets and talent. A matric certificate is no longer the only tool used to measure a child’s intellect or capabilities in the secondary phase. The world is embracing innovation and new ideas, which WhatsApp co-founder and Billionaire dropout Jan Koum touches on.

“When these incredible tools of knowledge and learning are available to the whole world, formal education becomes less important. We should expect to see the emergence of a new kind of Entrepreneur who has acquired most of their knowledge through self-exploration” he told Forbes Magazine.

Bear in mind that not every school dropout is going to become the next Richard Branson, Jan Koum or Ray Kroc, however, we need to inspire our youth in a learning pattern that doesn’t necessarily involve a dusty chalkboard and outdated subjects. Perhaps it’s about time we stop assuming success is moulded by a classroom when for many of the world’s most admired business leaders of today, it all began in a garage.

We need to start giving school dropouts the option to nurture their talents in ways that are relevant today and for me, this starts at the School of Entrepreneurship.

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Leon Lategan

Leon Lategan

Leon Lategan is The Entrepreneur Activist, a Coach & Creator of Entrepreneurs and the Founder & CEO of the School of Entrepreneurship.
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