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Stressful life events 'make it more likely that students will drop out of school'

26/04/2017 Joanna

Teachers need to be aware of the stressful life events experienced by their students in order to help mitigate the risk of them dropping out of school as a result.

This is according to a new study from the University of Montreal, which suggested that all manner of stress-inducing trigger events can cause teenagers to become disengaged from education, meaning they can quit suddenly even in cases where they have no prior history of difficulty.

To analyse this, the team looked at 545 adolescents aged around 16 years attending 12 public high schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in and around Montreal between 2012 and 2015. These schools' average dropout rate was 36 per cent, more than twice the Quebec average.

Around one-third of the study participants had just dropped out, while another third were schoolmates with similar academic profiles and family backgrounds, while the final third were average students deemed not to be at risk. All of the teenagers were interviewed at length about stressors in their life over the previous year.

Significant differences were found between dropouts and the two other groups in their exposure to severe stressors in the three months before the interview, during which nearly 40 per cent of dropouts were exposed to at least one severe stressor - more than twice as many as at-risk and average students - while exposure to two or more severe events was 12 times higher among dropouts.

Some of these severe difficulties were school-related, including protracted course failure or ongoing conflicts with school personnel, whereas others involved recurring family conflicts, chronic health problems and issues with peers and romantic relationships.

Overall, about two out of every five dropouts were shown to be exposed to some kind of significant stressful event in the months before quitting school, suggesting this is an issue that teachers need to monitor closely.

Study leader Veronique Dupere, a psychoeducation professor at the University of Montreal, said: "These findings show that the risk of high school dropout is not predetermined over the long run; rather, it fluctuates and becomes higher when adolescents have to deal with challenging situations in their lives.

"School personnel thus need to be aware of their students' changing needs in and out of school to provide them with the right kind of support at the right time."

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