Correlates of school dropout and absenteeism among adolescent girls from marginalized community in north Karnataka, south India

Ravi Prakash, Tara Beattie, Prakash Javalkar, Parinita Bhattacharjee, Satyanarayana Ramanaika, Raghavendra Thalinja, Srikanta Murthy, Calum Davey, James Blanchard, Charlotte Watts, Martine Collumbien, Stephen Moses, Lori Heise, Shajy Isac Journal of Adolescence, 2017; Read full paper online

Structural barriers cut short the education of many adolescent girls belonging to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe families in northern Karnataka, India. The Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT) is implementing a multi-level intervention, Samata, to address these barriers in the districts of Bijapur and Bagalkot. 

The Samata project comprises a comprehensive, multi-level intervention that works with key stakeholders (girls, families, boys, villages, schools, policy makers) to change social norms regarding gender, child marriage and girls' education, as well as to link lower caste families to government schemes that provide scholarships, bicycles and other incentives to support retention in school. This paper examines the individual, family, and school-level correlates of secondary level school dropout and absenteeism among lower caste adolescent girls in this context.

Key findings

  • School dropout is associated with economic factors (household poverty), social beliefs and practices (girl child marriage; value of girl education), and school-related factors (poor quality of learning at school; bullying/harassing school environment).
  • Absenteeism was also due to economic factors, social beliefs and school-related factors and is therefore a good predictor of potential future school dropout.
  • Household economic factors, including household wealth, was a key predictor of school dropout.
  • Girls living in households with young siblings (<6 years old) were more likely to have dropped out of school.
  • Girls from the poorest households were most likely to report frequent absenteeism.
  • Agricultural work is often seasonal with clashes with school timetables, leading to seasonal withdrawals from school.

Improving secondary school education entry and completion of girls, especially from rural and marginalised populations, will have health and economic benefits both for them and for the next generation." 


  • As poverty was a strong predictor of school dropout and absenteeism, interventions should pro-actively identify the most economically deprived households and support those families to find economic solutions to enable continuation of their daughter's education.
  • Interventions also need to address harmful social practices around girl child marriage, withdrawal of girls from secondary education, and ‘eve-teasing'. These are frequent matters of concern for parents, leading to restrictions on girls' mobility and withdrawal from school. 
  • The findings of this study also highlight the importance of school-level initiatives which provide a quality learning environment for girls and minimise bullying and harassment. 

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