Semantics: but Minister, there are no dropouts


 “The Fode students will study the same contents and they will sit for the same exams. So no one should be left behind. All students should be educated equally.”

Education Minister Jimmy Uguro, Fee free option for dropouts The National Newspaper 12 January 2021

Dropout: what does this mean?

Dropout(s), noun: a person who has abandoned a course of study or who has rejected conventional society to pursue an alternative lifestyle, e.g. “a college dropout”

(Definitions from Oxford Languages)

Some people like to use the synonym ‘hippy’ or ‘free spirit’, or more disapprovingly dropouts may be referred to as a ‘rebel’ or ‘misfit’, or with even less appreciation labeled as a, ‘’loafer’, ‘deadbeat’, ‘bum or ‘bad boy’ (na ‘bad girl’ tu o?).

Dropout is a term popularized in the 1950’s, a time when leaving school early could be a death sentence in the industrial world of the United Kingdom, Europe and America, where people needed qualifications in order to join the formally employed masses and thereby become automatons, i.e. get a job.

(And what’s changed about that?)

The advent of WWII would also have placed an added emphasis on the need for educated and trained citizens to become part of the national and increasingly worldwide economic system designed for humanity to produce, consume and grow. So being a dropout was really rough luck.

The term reached the height of its usage during the 1960’s era of ‘Flower Power’ and ‘free love’, probably influenced by those hipster Beatniks smoking weed and lounging around all day. A lot of the hippies had most likely dropped out of high school and college.

A second and higher period of use was in the 1990’s when I was in high school. Probably the resource boom of the mid- to late 80’s had raised the PNG economy so well that there was ‘no good excuse for not finishing school and getting a job’.

Incidentally, I myself didn’t get a proper job until two years after graduating university in 2001 so by that dumbass use of the term I was also a ‘dropout’.

I do recall a great deal of family and social pressure, pity and some stigma against so called ‘dropouts and failures’ during those days when I was a young teenager and as a vagrant ex-uni sumatin.

It seems to me that we are not differentiating the terms we use for students who do not continue beyond a certain year of schooling let alone manage to get a job.

During my school days that point of departure was after years 6, 10 and 12. Nowadays the categories are years 8, 10 and 12.

The Department of Education (DOE) strategy was to increase the number of years spent in school so that leaving school after grade eight, or ‘dropping out’ in the common parlance, meant that students had at least benefited from an additional two years of formal education.

Dropouts are students who, for one reason or another, have not completed a school course in which they were enrolled. But that does not necessarily mean that they were poorly educated (a Q&Q problem). Nor does it mean that they have not or would not be capable of passing an examination (IQ vs. Schooling).

Failing an examination does not mean that a pupil becomes a dropout.

It means that the student still has something to learn.

That lesson may not have anything to do with an academic education.

The lesson may be vocational or technical or agricultural or entrepreneurial.

I believe that it is worth reconsidering precisely what we mean by ‘dropout’ so that we are in a proper mindset to deal with the reality of the education system and the unavoidable outcome of examinations which are designed to determine the students’ specific functional abilities and test their individual areas of weakness and strength before further training.

There are always going to be school leavers and not all of them will receive placing at higher institutions within mainstream education.

But there are no dropouts who pass through the system yet do not have a place within the next level of educational training. They’re more like downgraded potential employees.

Yes, it is a matter of semantics, but I believe it matters.

Some people call them ‘pushouts’ from the education system but they are still school leavers.

So why can’t we simply leave it at that, school leavers?

Most of our school leavers at the end of grades 8, 10 and 12 did not abandon their school courses however they have not managed to pass through the central route of education.

In essence what that outcome might mean is that those school leavers are probably suited to doing something else.

Neither do most school leavers reject their society, although it is more likely that their society rejects them by labeling them as ‘dropouts’.

The Minister is to be commended for helping our school-leavers and their families to find out what other training they may be able to undergo in order to find their best place in the world.

Education is about learning stuff that helps you survive and thrive in life. And learning is a life-long process. That sounds more along the lines of a ‘flexible open distance education’ program.

Let’s not unnecessarily label our school leavers as dropouts.

The author assisted with tutoring grade ten and twelve school leavers from 1994-1997 at the former UPNG College of Extension Studies (COES)  when it was just a small time operation with a single classroom. Later the facilities were upgraded with the DOE program renamed College of Distance Education (CODE). Now the program is titled Flexible Open Distance Education (FODE). Clearly semantics is important to the DOE too.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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