The most frequently suggested reason why children and adolescents in developing countries do not go to school or leave school early is that there are no schools to go to, or that there are not enough places in them. In addition the cost of attending school during periods of manpower shortage may be a determining factor, particularly in agricultural areas. Marriage customs may encourage early marriage and childbirth. Grave illness is also an important factor. Many children leave school early because they, or their parents, do not find what is taught at school relevant to their needs in future employment. Others leave because they are needed as helpers at home or on the farm. Finally, many parents feel that it is more important for their children to receive traditional education and training on the job rather than spend their time in classroom.
A major aspect of educational wastage occurs when students leave the educational system prior to the termination of an educational cycle. Dropping-out in this sense is not related to the existence or duration of compulsory schooling and therefore leaving school before the minimum age is not regarded as dropping out. However, those who leave before the end of a cycle, but who have satisfied the compulsory education laws by staying at school until they have reached the minimum age, would be regarded as dropouts; and in countries which do not have compulsory education, a child who left school before completion of the stage in which he had registered would be regarded as a dropout.
This definition conflicts to some extent with more general notions of premature leaving, interpreted as leaving before the minimum age. The term may also be applied to students leaving at the end of the compulsory period when a further period is considered desirable even though not required.
A major aspect of educational wastage is the repetition by a student of a year of work in the same class or grade and doing the same work as in the previous year. This may occur at any level, from elementary to university.
[Developing countries] In the Third World, more than half of the pupils drop out entirely after the second year of primary school. Of primary school completers, only one in four obtains a place in a secondary school. Only a fraction graduate.
[Industrialized countries] In the early 1980s in France, dropouts made up between 100,000 and 250,000 of the 800,000 people leaving school annually. In UK 60% of children then left school before completing the final grade. In (then) West Germany and the USA, 10% had dropped out by the age of 16.
According to a 1996 report, about 25 per cent of Hungarian Gypsies had not finished primary education. Gypsies represented 5 to 7 per cent of the population of the country. High Gypsy unemployment was linked to the educational difficulties.
High rates of student drop out are both a personal tragedy for young people and a waste of human potential a nation can ill afford.