Promoting Secondary School Retention in Latin America and the Caribbean

In Latin America and the Caribbean, more students than ever are entering secondary school — but too many of them never complete this level and successfully graduate. While over 90 percent of children in the region now transition from primary to lower secondary school, only 59 percent complete upper secondary school (UNESCO, 2017; UIS, n.d.). In school, many students are often unsupported, do not learn, and do not see how their education will prepare them for the future. Outside of school, teen pregnancy and poverty continue to be significant hurdles. These obstacles, which together push and pull students out of school, have enormous implications: youth who do not complete secondary school earn lower incomes, face lower rates of employment, and are more likely to use drugs or be engaged in criminal activity. More broadly, these challenges mean that countries in the region struggle to build productive workforces with the skills necessary to generate economic growth in the 21st century.

Promoting secondary school retention in Latin America and the Caribbean: Lessons from Mexico and Chile explores the causes of dropout and investigates specific policies that work to keep at-risk youth in school. In particular, we try to understand the different reasons why young women and men drop out, and whether interventions are sensitive to those differences. Through a comprehensive review of existing evidence, expert consultations, and in-depth country case studies, we attempt to answer the following questions:

  • What are the main factors that contribute to secondary school dropout, and how do these differ by gender?
  • What education policies and programs in the region have worked to promote school retention?
  • How do contextual and institutional factors contribute to both successes and challenges in designing and implementing effective retention strategies?

Case studies of four promising initiatives in Mexico and Chile explore strategies to identify at-risk youth, support school leaders and teachers, and foster students’ socio-emotional skills. Based on these insights, we offer recommendations for decision-makers throughout the region to consider when designing and implementing strong and coherent school retention strategies. Incorporating a gender perspective when designing interventions, improving coordination between complementary school-related initiatives, and building strong early warning systems are some of the recommendations that emerged from our case studies in Chile and Mexico, which are applicable elsewhere in the region.

CAF, the Development Bank of Latin America, and Results for Development (R4D) are delighted to present the findings that emerge as a consequence of our close collaboration on this study. The study contributes to the strategic guidelines of the CAF 2017- 2022 Education Agenda: to increase access to and completion of secondary education and to strengthen the quality and relevance of education, so every child and youth acquires the necessary skills for life and work in the 21st century.

This report builds on our joint expertise related to youth skills and employment and leverages CAF’s regional leadership and R4D’s deep experience conducting action-oriented research and analysis. It is our hope that these findings and recommendations guide and influence policymakers, researchers, and practitioners working to achieve universal secondary education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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