The more time children spend away from school, the more chances they will not return. This maxim is reinforced with current data: child poverty of 63%, economic crisis worsened by the pandemic, children who have to go out to work.

During the past year, which passed almost completely without face-to-face classes, the main concern that arose was precisely how it would impact on school drop-outs. Today, in mid-2021, the question remains: how many boys dropped out of school in Argentina?

There is a specific data at the national level, perhaps the only one. In the pedagogical continuity survey that the Ministry of Education carried out in June 2020, 1.1 million boys were detected who had disconnected from their schools.

10% of the total if the 11 million students that make up the enrollment at the initial, primary and secondary levels are considered.

Although with two details: in the kindergartens it was not asked how many children had lost contact with the institution and the survey did not take the second half of the year, in which surely more students lost contact with their schools.

From this survey, the educational portfolio undertook the Accompany Program, which aims to locate and re-link students with schools. In official figures for March, the latest available, 376,532 students had been “recovered.” That is, just a third of the total.

With all of them they undertook different activities such as artistic workshops, support classes in mathematics, reading and writing, and tutorials.

The Government does not consider that what happens to those little more than a million boys is about school dropouts. The unprecedented situation that the pandemic brought about caused a rather semantic limbo on what it means to drop out of school.

In the Ministry of Education they prefer to speak of “disengagement”, although, in fact, if the school operates at a distance and the student does not have any type of contact – neither by Zoom, nor by WhatsApp, nor analog – with their teachers and their tasks, it is quite similar to dropping out of school.

The data would only be in 2022 (AP / Victor R. Caivano)

For the authorities, the dropout levels will be known only when it is known how much the loss of enrollment was. But that takes a long time. Only the 2020 Annual Survey (RA) carried out by the provinces and then consolidated by the Nation would be published in September.

To see the impact of the pandemic and the suspension of face-to-face classes, it would be necessary to contrast the enrollment of the RA 2020 with that of the RA 2021, whose results would only be ready in September 2022, as confirmed to Infobae.

In the districts consulted by this means, there were no major advances either. Still no provincial portfolio contrasted the enrollment of a year with the previous one to measure how many students did not return to the classrooms, much less did they locate them.

Of course, today the task would be complex: in much of the country, face-to-face classes were suspended again.

In the meantime, the portfolio led by Nicolás Trotta advances in the Comprehensive Educational Digital Information System (SINIDE), a large pending account of Argentine education that would allow all students to be nominalized and, in this way, follow their school careers.

For statistics, students are numbers without names.

SINIDE’s history dates back to 2012, when the ministry began to develop the system, but its concrete progress since then has been negligible. The Federal Council, which brings together all the country’s ministers, approved its implementation in 2014 and then ratified its relevance in 2016.

Nine years after it began to be dealt with, the system still does not function as a source of educational statistics. With the surveys, we could have an approximate number of how many boys drop out of school, but for now not the most important thing: who.

For now, only projections

In May of last year, the Di Tella University did an exploratory study on 143 schools in the City and province of Buenos Aires.

The report revealed a clear gap: that after 10 weeks of suspension of classes, half of the public schools indicated that more than 20% of their students did not participate in remote education, while among the private companies, this response only reached 6% of the establishments.

The level most affected was the initial level – the one that the official survey did not consider – followed by the secondary level.

“School dropout during suspension from face-to-face classes It occurs especially in vulnerable students, the most difficult to recover. There are still no precise official data at the country level on last year’s school drop-outs. We do not know what the dropout rate is, that is, how many students did not return to school this yea”, stated Claudia Romero, PhD in Education, in charge of the research team.

When inquiring about the reasons for disengagement, differences also emerged between the types of schools. In the state schools, the directors pointed out two factors that complicated pedagogical continuity: little or no access to technology (96%) and poor conditions for studying at home, having little space, time or the nuisance of annoying noise (76%).

In private schools, connectivity problems among those who had lost contact with the school was lower (41%) and also pointed out other barriers such as adaptation to new teaching strategies (41%).

The differences in the quality of distance education are clearly seen in a recent report by the UCA and the Cáritas Foundation. In the lower strata, WhatsApp is the main tool for contacting the school. Virtual platforms only reach 11% of homes. While in the “medium professional” layer, Zoom or Google Meet reach 72% of the boys.

The researcher Agustín Claus, a teacher at Flacso, projected last year how many children would be lost as a result of the pandemic. The estimate, which he defined as moderate, gave him at least 1.5 million who would leave the educational system.

Already in 2021, if it is compared with other countries in the region, such as Brazil or Mexico that already released some official figures, the estimated model was very accurate.

The calculation he made takes into account two factors: the average year-on-year drop-out by level and the responses that the Ministry of Education collected in the national evaluation of pedagogical continuity.

With both variables, he arrived at the projection of a loss of 1.5 million in common education, that is, 13% fewer students in the three compulsory levels (initial, primary and secondary) and in the non-university superior.

For the specialist, beyond the fact that the official reports will bring some response closer, the number of students impacted by the pandemic will never be known for sure.

“Regardless of the RA 2020 and RA 2021 being published, surveys are taken by those enrolled at the beginning of the school year or at the latest in the first half. It is a record in a single moment. The truth is that you do not have the possibility at the national level, due to the lack of a nominalized record, to follow up the trajectories and see the intensity of this pedagogical continuity,” explained Claus.

The answer to the initial question – how many boys dropped out of school? – has no answer and the statistical backwardness makes it difficult for that answer, when available, to be accurate.

The bleeding detected of that 1.1 million children had to widen with the spread of the pandemic. As a premise that cannot be postponed: first identify them, then go looking for them and, finally, reinstate them.

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