North Colombia state sees unusual spike in school drop-outs

Posted on Jul 19 2014 - 10:28am by Today News
Matoneo (Photo: Julian Castro)

Drop-out rates from Colombia’s formal educational institutions in the northern state of Santander are now at 1.2%, according to a report from the Ministry of Education.

Of the 40,000 students who attend public schools in the area, 500 dropped-out this year, according to Bucaramanga’s Vanguardia newspaper.

While the figure is low compared to the national drop-out rate of around 6%, recent reports from Barrancabermeja indicate that several schools in the city are well above this average.

Higher drop-out in Barrancabermeja due to “high degree of instability,” fluctuating population

Barrancabermeja, located in the northern department of Santander, was recognized in 2013 by Colombia’s Ministry of Education for their reduction in student drop-out as well as efforts to create accessible education, according to a press release from the Ministry.

However, the rural area still struggles with student retention rates as a part of the ongoing issues of child labor, large distances, and lack of transportation to schools, along with other socioeconomic difficulties.

In 2013, the city extended the matriculation period to account for students who arrived later in the school year, according to a press release from the government of Santander.

The Diego Hernandez Gallego school registered 104 students dropping-out this year out of a total enrollment of 2,963 students, Colombia’s Vanguardia newspaper reported. This represents a drop-out rate of 3% — more than two times the average rate in Barrancabermeja.

Another institution with a high drop-out rate is the Camilo Torres school, where in a reported enrollment of 4,621 students, 98 left schooling this year.

The director of the Diego Hernandez Gallego school, Gustavo Moreno Jerez, attributes the high drop-out rates to socioeconomic difficulties that Barrancabermeja faces “many children of single mothers, displaced people, people living in vulnerable populations who are frequently changing location.”

“Overall there is a high degree of instability in the families of these students, and this is reflected in school attendance,” Moreno said.

In 2009, the drop-out rate from students in the area also rose to an alarming high of 7%, according to Bogota’s Caracol Radio. The rate has fluctuated in years since, but mostly shows a decline from this number.

The director of the Camilo Torres high school, Leonardo Mateus, described a town where jobs are scarce, and the population changes owing to the work season.

“When there’s not work here, people leave. There are cases where people arrive from villages or nearby municipalities to work for three months and then they leave, therefore the population fluctuates and so do the students,” said Mateus.

The region around Barrancabermeja counts 17 schools and five educational centers as well as other resources distributed throughout the region, the Ministry of Education reports.

Drop-out rate in Santander still below national average

Despite problems with student retention in areas such as Barrancabermeja, the official drop-out figure is only around 2%, according to Vanguardia.

“Santander has always done very well compared to the national average due to various programs that we have to ensure the retention of students,” Secretary of the Educational department Luis Alberto Chavez stated.

While programs that provide meals to children as well as transportation are prevalent, Alberto also recognizes  that there can exist “economic problems that result in students working and not going to school.”

Alberto added that work through the mayor’s office was being done to address the issue of child labor interfering with schooling.


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