THE number of children dropping out of school because they're "not interested" is much higher than those driven to leave school because they can't afford it.
This sobering finding by the Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics rattled stakeholders attending a three-day National Child Labour Forum that came to end yesterday, many conceding that a multi-pronged approach was needed to improve students' chances of completing school.
The sample survey was of 4000 households spread across the country. Preliminary numbers indicate that out of the 5313 children surveyed who were not at school, 579 "had never been to school".
And of the 4734 dropouts, 1700 or 36 per cent cited "not interested" as the reason they were not in school. A total of 1400 or 29 per cent said they "could not afford" it.
Ministry of Education officials participating at the forum said the report showed there was a need for a multi-pronged approach to dealing with the dropout epidemic.
"We were taken by surprise. The findings made us realise that the problem is bigger and more complex. Here we are hearing from the students themselves and that is very telling," said Apao Solomone, the ministry's principal education officer and human resources manager.
"We have always focused assistance on the financial needs but now we have another issue. We will be meeting with the FIBOS next week because we want to review the data and see if we can speak to the students and find out ourselves what the problem is and how we can make the school more engaging."
According to Serevi Baledrokadroka, the principal statistician at FIBOS, the survey was included in a normal labour force survey, to support the International Labour Organization's Tackling Child Labour through Education (TACKLE) program.
He said the initial meetings of the European Union-funded program found there was no available data on child labour.
"It's new, it was done for the first time between 2010 and 2011, arising out of a TACKLE meeting," he said.
"We saw there was a need for data and decided to include a module on children who had dropped out of school, children aged between the age of 6 and 17."
Alumeci Susu Tuisawau, the acting director Curriculum Advisory Services & Technical Vocational Education and Training CAS/TVET at the MOE, said action on how to keep children in school had started.
"We are also in the process of reviewing our curriculum and we will be looking at how subjects are being taught and if there are areas where we can make learning more interesting for students," she said.
Fiji Teachers Union general secretary Agni Deo Singh said the transformation of students would have to include talks of better teachers, smaller classes, more individualised instruction, more tutoring, and extra time with teachers, strengthen communication with parents and track absenteeism.
Permanent secretary for Youth and Sports Josefa Sania said his ministry would undertake a detailed survey of the dropout problem