Students who left school early, without obtaining any qualifications, often felt “shortchanged” by an education system that did not properly acknowledge their learning difficulties, according to a new study.

Conducted by the National Observatory for Living with Dignity, the study, being published tomorrow, is also set to reveal that students whose parents get a divorce were more likely to drop out of school without any qualifications.

Observatory chairman Carmel Borg told the Times of Malta the study would confirm there were moments in the lives of those interviewed where they felt they had been shortchanged by a system that did not properly acknowledge and provide for their learning difficulties and let them drift away from the targets set for the compulsory school system.

“The system also tracked or streamed them early until they became a self-fulfilling prophecy and they were rarely helped in properly transitioning from home to school given the social and cultural gap that defined home-school relations,” Prof. Borg said.

Prof. Borg said the break-up of parents’ marriage could cause the most profound emotional trauma and leave the biggest impact on children, particularly in low socio-economic status contexts defined by limited social and cultural capital.

“Children living in families where parents are divorced are often in constant, apparent or hidden mourning that often leads to early school-leaving,” he noted.

The issue, he commented, threw light on the importance of emotional stability within the family unit because there was a very strong link between such stability and potential for the child’s holistic development. The study, by lead researcher Milosh Raykov, consists of a literature review of qualitative studies as well as in-depth interviews.

The researchers warn that while a positive educational environment at home is crucial, quality schools are strategically central to achieving social justice in education.

The National Statistics Office reported in October that although Malta’s early school leaving rate dropped to 17.7 per cent in 2017 from 20.3 per cent in 2014, this was still far from the 2020 target of 10 per cent.

In recent years, Malta continued to register among the highest numbers of early school leavers across the EU, with Eurostat data showing that one in five Maltese students leave school by the age of 18.

The National Observatory for Living with Dignity is part of the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.