Preventing and combating school dropout
Interview with Ciprian Fartuşnic, PhD and Otilia Apostu, PhD student, Institute for Educational Sciences
• What is an EPA? How can it help to prevent dropout?
Educational priority areas (EPA) are a set of measures used where economic and social conditions get in the way of students’ success in school. The system promotes positive discrimination and compensation (allocating additional school resources to students with learning difficulties and poor school results which stem from social and economic challenges) and consists of three main components:
a. Educational policies targeting compensation and the removal of educational inequalities, which involves turning elite schools into mainstream schools and providing equal opportunities through welfare state interventions; these policies are typically implemented geographically (EPA approach);
The main aim of EPA programmes is to give young people from socially and economically disadvantaged areas basic education, improve their school results and facilitate their social and professional integration. The EPA system has proved particularly successful in preventing and combating school dropout both in European education systems (especially in France) and in our system, with pilot interventions having been implemented in Romania from 2003 with support from UNICEF Romania.
The EPA system helps the school, students and community develop significant and effective partnerships. It gives local stakeholders the means to reduce the risk of dropout and combat school inequalities.
• How has this model fared at national level?
At the start of 2003, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) began a pilot project to test the feasibility of EPA and how it might be applied to the national education system. The project was implemented with the help of UNICEF Romania from 2003-2007, in No 3 Elementary and Middle School in Giurgiu. The school is located in a socially and economically disadvantaged area, with a high Roma population and little involvement from the community in solving school-related problems. When the selection was made, the school was dealing with numerous issues such as: a high dropout rate, a relatively high number of unschooled children in the school’s enrolment area, high grade repetition rate, poor infrastructure (including teaching materials and equipment) and low funding from local authorities.
The project targeted all students enrolled in the selected school and some children from socially and economically challenged families. Its objectives were those of the EPA model. The project’s key components were: training of teachers and school managers; curriculum development for the EPA class and catch-up classes; school infrastructure through improvement of school facilities, furniture, teaching materials and equipment; development of community partnerships, involving parents, local public authorities, private companies and NGOs; and social work for both the students attending the EPA classes and the rest of the students.
The results of the pilot project demonstrated that EPA-based intervention can provide a long-term solution to improve social inclusion for students from a socially and economically challenged background. The IES research team, with the support of UNICEF Romania, therefore decided to scale up the EPA intervention by implementing a new project in five schools in the County of Călăraşi. Four of these schools were located in rural areas (No 2 Elementary and Middle School in Modelu, the Elementary and Middle School in Roseţi, No 2 Elementary and Middle School in Ulmeni and the Elementary and Middle School in Stancea-Spanţov) and one in an urban area (School No 7 in Călăraşi).
During the 2009-2010 school year, over 1,700 children, 120 teachers, 300 parents and 27 representatives of management teams participated in project activities. Monitoring and evaluation confirmed that the project helped both school stakeholders and the community. The benefits of gradually scaling-up the EPA framework and methodology to the whole system were thereby confirmed, especially as regards school attendance and reducing dropout.
The decision to carry on with the EPA project in other schools fitting the criteria was only natural as the economic recession has made this type of intervention even more important. Most County School Inspectorates indicated that in 2009 the crisis had impacted on school attendance rates, while the number of dropout cases had risen significantly as compared to previous years.
UNICEF Romania/ Listen and learn
• In which schools will the new project be implemented and how were they selected?
The schools where the EPA model is set to be scaled-up have high dropout rates and are in counties which official data indicate are the worst affected by the phenomenon. The school selection process was quite complex and involved several stages:
Based on data from the National Institute of Statistics, 12 counties were selected from those reporting the highest dropout rates in the 2008-2009 school year
After the field visits, a list was drawn up of the 24 communities and schools where EPA-specific activities will be carried out during the 2010-2011 school year. They are listed below:
The activities planned for the selected schools should make school and community stakeholders aware of the extent and causes of dropout and means of intervention for the fight against it. More precisely, the schools will be given information sessions, training and assistance to help them:
- Identify students at high risk of dropping out of school and develop personal intervention plans;
We expect the new schools hosting EPA intervention-specific activities to see a direct, clear and measurable impact in terms of school participation as well as other positive effects (for example, improvement in the students’ school results, increase in the number of children who continue their studies after finishing middle school or compulsory education, development of school-family-community relationships, increase in the management team’s capacity to promote educational projects, and so on). As a result of the field visits, relevant statistical data have been collected to work out some baseline indicators that will help to adequately measure the success of the interventions in each school. In this way, we hope the successful experiences will be further scaled-up and replicated as part of a process of fine-tuning the EPA intervention to suit each community. The end of the 2010-2011 school year will thereby offer a series of long-awaited answers to all those who are interested in the project.
The main features of the EPA intervention are synthesised from an educational policy perspective in the document Scaling Up the EPA System. Policy Implications. IES, 2010.
*A further 14 communities in Suceava, Botoşani, Dolj, Giurgiu and Vâlcea have been subsequently added to the EPA scale-up.This means a total of 38 communities will carry out EPA activities in the 2010/2011 school year.