The invisible school dropout of rural youth


In 2010, France signed the European commitments entitled “Europe 2020” , one of the objectives of which was to reduce the school dropout rate below 10% by 2020. That is to say, less than 10%. % of young people leave their training with a level lower than that of the CAP-BEP. In 2019, the school dropout rate was 8% .

While, of course, the primary objective of the fight against this phenomenon is to reduce inequalities between students, it is also a social and economic issue. A 2014 report estimates the “cost” of dropping out of a student at 230,000 € over a lifetime, which would amount to an annual “cost” for the State of around 30 billion.

At the individual level, the stakes are also great, and this despite the inflation of the level of qualification. Figures from INSEE for 2021 indicate that the unemployment rate 1 to 4 years after leaving the training system is 48% for non-graduates against 11% for those with a bac + 2 or higher diploma. superior.

The measures taken to fight against dropping out of school, however, reveal a significant cleavage between urban spaces and rural spaces, less densely populated and marked by distance from services. The absence of second-chance schools, of Establishments for Integration into Employment (EPIDE), or quite simply the less strong concentration of devices linked to Local Missions, reveal these territorial inequalities .

Territories of success

More than a question of access to these structures, rural dropouts are disadvantaged by measures based on a very urban-centered perception of the markers of the risk of dropping out of school, since they are based on research carried out in town.

We actually have very few indicators on the causes, consequences and methods of dropping out of school in these areas which nonetheless regroup, as Joël Zaffran shows , nearly a fifth of the number of school dropouts. Political prerogatives concerning the fight against dropping out of school nevertheless clearly highlight the need for regional management, but the rural aspect of the spaces is not taken into consideration.

Studies point to a clear correlation between a lower social background and lower academic success as well as a higher dropout rate. If the rural areas include more employees and workers and less executives and higher intellectual professions than the cities, they defy the forecasts. The 2018 report from IGEN and IGAENR on rural education shows that students there perform slightly better than urban ones when entering college and that they ultimately do not really suffer from shortages, delays or deficits related to their education.

Several elements have been invoked by sociology to explain these results. First, significant family involvement in the educational life of children, as well as greater trust between parents and teachers, made possible in particular by greater mutual knowledge in these spaces. Then, the small size of the classrooms and the greater presence of multi-level classes allowing more time per student and promoting development.

Rural areas are therefore not areas of cultural or educational “gaps” and even seem to limit the difficulties of certain pupils. It should also be noted that they show a strong correspondence between training, employment and territory , with a greater orientation towards shorter and more professional studies than in the city.

Still according to IGEN and IGAENR, we can observe that 61% of rural students are in a vocational bac course against 39% in the city. This more common orientation towards these courses means that rural young people feel less devalued by such courses in an environment where for many there is a form of “evidence” of a short and professionalizing school course.

The rural environment is therefore not an environment conducive to dropping out of school, since its educational peculiarities and the greater frequency of professionalizing orientations seem to bring a certain resistance to this phenomenon. This explains why young rural people represent a quarter of the young population of the national territory and only 17% of dropouts in France.

Complex signals to spot

In reality, what makes dropping out of school in rural areas problematic is the form it takes and the difficulty of implementing an appropriate prevention policy. In rural areas, as elsewhere, dropping out of school is the result of a long process of distance from one’s schooling, very often motivated by a desire for rapid integration into the labor market.

Among rural young people who drop out, the attraction of the working world is the main motivation that is put forward to justify the act of dropping out of school. In short, this is seen as a way to accelerate the independence of adulthood.

Apart from this very important desire for professional integration in the act of dropping out of school, it is the discretion and the abrupt nature of rural dropping out of school that makes it special. Sociology generally suggests two types of behavior that seem to indicate a high risk of dropping out of school:

  • “internalized” behaviors, which correspond to depression, suicide attempts, self-harm or even low self-esteem;
  • “externalized” behaviors, such as rebellion, violence, frequent delays and above all a crescendo of absenteeism.

However, in order to detect the risks of dropping out of school and to fight upstream, it is mainly the externalized behaviors – more visible – which are used as markers of a potential school dropout.

The difficulty when we are interested in the phenomenon of dropping out of school in rural areas is then the low frequency of these behaviors, and in particular of absenteeism. If internalized behavior is just as frequent as in the city, acts of rebellion and especially physical distancing from school are much rarer in spaces marked by remoteness and where the school remains the nerve center of relationships and juvenile practices.

As rural areas are more difficult to appropriate for young people with little or no means of transportation, rural students – and future dropouts – much less often exhibit this type of behavior mobilized to detect the risk of dropping out of school. .

The dropout of these young people is not the culmination of a crescendo of absenteeism as in the city, but rather takes place during holidays, after which these young people simply do not return to class. Very often, a refusal in his choice of orientation, a bad report or a repetition will be the trigger for dropping out, but without the pupil having expressed externalized behaviors upstream.

What this phenomenon shows is the absence of clear policies dedicated to rural areas in terms of identifying the risks of dropping out of school, but also in terms of remediation, whereas today the institutions in charge of re-enrollment are all – or almost – in town.

This invisible dropout is worrying since, although the work of Joël Zaffran seems to indicate better professional integration in the countryside than in the city for non-graduates, rural areas are very far from being free from the phenomena of vulnerability linked to lack of diploma. It is therefore necessary to take into account the spatial characteristics of the phenomenon of dropping out of school in order to continue an effective fight throughout the territory.

Taking an interest in internalized behaviors such as low self-esteem or self-centered violence is an interesting avenue to study and shows the complex and polymorphic character that the fight against dropping out of school must take on today throughout the national territory.

Author Bio: Clement Reverséis a lecturer in Sociology of Youth, sociology of rural areas at the University of Bordeaux